In italics below you will find a comment posted by “Doctor Disaster” beneath my most recent column about the overall success of a veritable feast of Grade 1 races run on the busiest Breeders’ Cup Prep weekend this fall.
The edited post appears in italics. Immediately below is my response on the issues raised. Most of Doc’s observations were spot on. Indeed, the quality of this comment is Op-Ed material any racing website would be pleased to post.
Other observations lacked a nod to present day conventions that have changed the course of racing history, some of it good, some not so much. It’s not really an issue of right or wrong. We see modern racing as an acknowledgment to what is:
“John: I have a slightly different slant on this past weekend. I miss the Belmont Fall Championship meet. It has been rendered a non-entity by the never ending marketing of so-called World Championships (we will see how many Euros actually show up in Lexington).
There is no question that Belmont Fall Championship meet still produces great performances in virtually all divisions, as does Keeneland’s fall meet, but each have taken “hits” as their best events are now bridges to two of racing’s five biggest days.
That wasn’t the case when Breeders’ Cup had its inaugural in 1984 but times do and have changed. The breed has not gotten stronger, only prettier, as horses are bred for the sales ring by most breeders today, not for the sport of it.
With horses being less stout and foal crops virtually halved as breeders concentrate on the top of the market, pickings have become slim. You can’t make a suit without the material.
“I guess that the genie is long out of the bottle and we are never returning to the glory of Forego’s run in the ’76 Marlboro, or Slew’s magnificent Champagne one year later (still the greatest two-year-old performance of the last half century).
My first thought as I watched Jackie’s Warrior cross the finish line was of black and beautiful Seattle Slew’s dominating win in the Champagne, crowning him a champion.
As for Forego, with respect to his size, athleticism, and versatility, he is a once-in-a-lifetime racehorse. They just don’t happen every day, whatever the era.
“Everything nowadays is a prep for some Breeders Cup race (even ones [I consider] fake BC races). I don’t know about you but I am bored with the constant regurgitation of the nonsense about ” Win and In” races. Why would local punters care if some Arab Sheik gets his entry fee paid by his own breeding operation in Versailles, KY? I know that I don’t.
It is now Breeders’ Cup that defines champions. I personally take into consideration body of work when there is more than one would-be champion, but a Breeders’ Cup win in a close category is a definite tie-breaker.
I, too, am not fond of the term “World Championships,” a little too ugly American, but on balance the Breeders’ Cup fills the role John Gaines had envisioned. I’m also not interested in earnings, no longer having an interest in a race horse.
The Win-and-In is not about shipping for oil rich Sheikhs or deep-pocketed British bookmakers, it’s about encouraging participation. Competition between tracks is what hurts field size, not the ‘WAYI model.
The WAYI construct succeeds in encouraging participation in fall classics–better if not for scheduling conflicts. I’m happy for smaller outfits such as the connections of undefeated juvenile filly Dayoutoftheoffice, her trainer Tim Hamm getting his first lifetime Grade 1.
Eight horses that won this past weekend at Belmont Park and Keeneland last raced at Kentucky Downs, a new brief but high-profile player on the good-horse circuit.
What about those that didn’t benefit from a run in Franklin, KY? If not for that meet, they might have run at Belmont. And the Keeneland horses might have run at Belmont if this year’s Breeders’ Cup were scheduled elsewhere.
“Last week we were discussing your idea to change the TC season. As far as I’m concerned, the KY Derby “point” system and the Breeders Cup WAYI have conspired to undermine what was once a semblance of a “Season” in Thoroughbred racing.
I’m a fan of the Derby point system. Most years the race still attracts limit fields of 20 while clearing out precocious juvenile speedsters who couldn’t get a mile and a quarter in the proverbial van.
By forcing connections to earn points, it helps the cream to rise, hence the success of form horses, especially the betting favorite since the point system was instituted. For the good of the game, betting notwithstanding, I root for the ‘best horse’ to win.
“It seems that all that we have now is one of two things: Who has the requisite number of points for the Derby or who is running in the Breeders’ Cup. Nobody is running their horses any more!
I’m as guilty as the next turf writer for using the point system to lead Derby stories, although none of us are as guilty as racing’s TV shill factories who need access to put on a show. All writers need is a backstretch pass and a notebook.
Good horses are running–just not against each other, Breeders’ Cup or not. The purses on major circuits are huge, and if they’re not running at your favorite track, they’re ducking and running somewhere against less formidable foes for the same money.
“A typical Derby Starter now has at most three or four starts before the Derby. Moreover, all of the horses other than 3yo colts, only run once or twice before the Breeders’ Cup.
As for the number starts, even three pre-Derby races is about max these days. Many horsemen want a fresh horse on the day and most believe, as I do, that the third race in any form cycle produces an optimal result.
Three-season campaigns are rare due to the considerations of freshness and spacing. When a three-season campaign does exist, all three cannot be full. Time is the Thoroughbred’s and a horseman’s best friend.
Extended time allows for more natural development and is animal friendly; it also compensates for dehydration, often a by-product a raceday diuretic. No hoof-no horse is for real. The greater truth is no horse-no game.
“Take a look back at Belmont last Saturday. The field sizes for what used to be the defining races of the year were woefully small and lacking in depth.
While small fields hinder price seekers, value is still available. In their fashion, small-field ‘rider’s races’ are more difficult to predict. Handicap all you want, once the gate opens strategy most often separates winners from losers.
“Current Federal Legislation might be a cure for racing’s medication and safety problems but what is the remedy for ensuring that we will have an entertaining and bettable product going forward?“
Scheduling is key. A modern championship campaign might take just five races to complete–if they’re the right five races. Trainers don’t run often because they want their charges to peak on racing’s biggest days. And you can count those on one hand.