The graded stakes smorgasbord introduced by the Breeders' Cup (BC) whet players' appetites for sequences of large, competitive fields prone to producing profitable plays on pick-able longshots; a phenomenon unmatched even by the undercards for the three year-old classics.
The attention paid to the BC came at the expense of several traditional fall graded fixtures that previously determined the equine recipients of Eclipse awards but which now function largely as preps.
Many of these are among the 47 North American races designated as "Win-And-You're-In” (WAYI) events, guaranteeing the winner a starting berth in the corresponding divisional race, along with the entry fee and travel expenses.
In all, 31 WAYI races out of a total 65 graded stakes were scheduled from September 7 and ending this weekend, including 21 Grade 1s.
The preps most likely to produce BC winners were run during the first two of five weekends. Weekend #1 included one, 11, and four preps on Fri., Sat., and Sun., respectively, and two, 14, and six on weekend #2.
The premier preps, of course, were hosted by industry giants Belmont Park, Santa Anita and Keeneland, with the first two staging 11 WAYI events, 10 of them G1s. “Super Saturday,” indeed.
If the all-you-can-bet buffet can be hyped as "Super," then perhaps last weekend should be called "Stupefying" since the status of several equine stars did not shine in the prep spotlight:
Sweet Reason, Strong Mandate, Obviously, Groupie Doll, and Golden Scents all lost as favorites, and Wise Dan's Horse of the Year candidacy took a major hit, off-the-turf conditions notwithstanding.
These attempts to replicate the appeal of the Breeders’ Cup all at once result in smaller fields and less attendance. Scheduling duplicate divisions on the same day always dilutes fields. Owners and trainers may like it; bettors not so much.
In "Super Saturday is too much of a good thing," HRI blogger Tom Jicha made a good point when he wrote, "[NYRA] finally managed to bottom itself with the Thursday Pick 4, combining the last two in New York with the first two at Penn National, a track that might as well be Assiniboia Downs to Big Apple players.
Yet with an opportunity to link four championship caliber races on the biggest day of the fall outside the Breeders' Cup, NYRA and Santa Anita did nothing. Why?"
Why indeed? Thirty-six preps were run on those six prep days. And why not offer a multi-venue Pick Six on each day? Such a horizontal wager could be completed in an hour without compromising opportunities for those coming out to the track to get a closer look at the champions as I do.
Using the Classic division as an example, couldn't the Jockey Gold Cup and the Awesome Again be run on separate weekends to offer different rest periods--as well as distances--while also enabling unintended defections to compete the following week?
Here are just two examples of how something like that could work; showcasing the marquee events while also providing a stage for each division. (Perhaps entire weekends—Friday through Sunday—could be devoted to the Breeders’ Cup fall preps. It could prove a marketing bonanza to the host tracks as well as creating special events for the simulcast audience:
SA:*G1-Chandelier -- Juvenile Fillies – 8.5 f
SA:*G1-FrontRunner – Juvenile – 8.5 f
REM: G3-Oklahoma Derby -- Classic -- 9 f
BEL:*G1-Beldame – Distaff – 9 f
BEL:*G1-J.Hirsch Turf Classic – Turf – 12 f T
BEL:*G1-Jockey Club Gold Cup – Classic – 10 f
HAW: G3-Hawthorne Derby – Turf/Mile – 9 f T
IND: G2-Indiana Derby – Classic – 9 f
KEE:*G2-Thoroughbred Club of America – F&M Sprint – 7 f
KEE:*G1-Shadwell Turf Mile – Mile – 1 m T
SA:*G1-Zenyatta – Distaff – 8.5 f
SA:*G1-Awesome Again – Classic – 9 f
*denotes WAYI preps
Players will only return to the tracks on a regular basis for better wagering value and/or an experience that beats staying at home. (A Breeders' Cup Prep Pick Six could have a 50-Cent minimum but with incentives to come out to see the live product).
Additionally, this can provide an excellent opportunity to test a voucher system proposed by cyber-commenter Kyle: On-track bettors could purchase non-refundable discount vouchers for concessions and/or wagering in designated pools.
Such vouchers could also apply to enhanced seating, including multi-purpose rooms providing patrons with amenities such as wireless ear pieces capable of switching between Sunday’s NFL telecasts.
In retrospect, there appeared to be too little cooperation between tracks, leading to fewer people betting fewer horses in too many races over too long a period, subverting the success that should have rewarded the tracks that enable the best equine athletes to compete against one another.
“Super Race Days” are good for the business and for the sport’s fans. But there should be a concerted effort to maximize exposure over the short term as opposed to glutting the market all at once.