- BC PREVIEWS/PREPS: Races Turning Into Performances
GREENWICH, NY (10/10/06): While the results of the Breeders' Cup prep weekends continue to offer glimpses of the horses we will get to see at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of November, it's hard to call what we're witnessing great racing. More and more, and aside from the 20 horse Kentucky Derby and full field Breeders' Cup events, racing fans are now 'treated' in major stakes to what can only be called "performances". These demonstrations of prowess versus watered-down competition, pale in comparison to actual renewals of the kinds of contests that produced high drama and stalwart efforts from great champions for decades.
On October 7 at Belmont, there is no doubt that the Distaff side of the great game held up its' end with good races in the Flower Bowl and Beldame that featured thrilling finishes. But the 4 horse Jockey Club Gold Cup, 5 horse Vosburgh and 7 horse Hirsch Turf Classic were basically little more than exhibitions for Bernardini, Henny Hughes and English Channel to make their final starts before BC XXII. It was certainly a pleasure for race aficionados to witness the displays of the star trio, but from a wagering and spirit of competition standpoint, the day was a great disappointment.
Is it an indictment of that troika of premier thoroughbreds? Hardly. It is an indictment of a game that simply fails to utilize its' increasingly precious resources properly. Within a week of the Gold Cup, a race that in the years before the Breeders' Cup had crowned the likes of Forego, Damascus and Nashua as champions, no less than three other 9-10 furlong "classics" were run at Turfway Park (Kentucky Cup), Hawthorne (Gold Cup) and Santa Anita (Goodwood). Where exactly are 32-48 Grade I caliber animals (averages of 8-12 horses for each race) supposed to come from in October?
The Vosburgh (BEL), Ancient Title (OSA), Phoenix (KEE) and Kentucky Cup Sprint (TP) produced a similar scenario for sprinters, and the separation of 8 (BC Mile) and 12 furlong (BC Turf) grass events across the country diluted the sod suspects further still. According to racing secretaries around the country, there are simply not enough horses available to feed full fields in four late fall classic-type events these days. Rick Hammerle (Santa Anita/Del Mar) and PJ Campo (NYRA) both echoed that sentiment on recent editions of SIRIUS Satellite Radio's "At the Races and Beyond", and both expressed their helplessness at rectifying the situation.
Sal Sinatra of Philadelphia Park was another "ATRAB" racing director guest that was disgusted by the conflicting overkill of options on October 7 for fillies as he tried to produce a quality edition of the $500,000 Cotillion. Originally content to contend with Hoosier's Indiana Oaks for sophomore senoritas, Sinatra eventually sang the blues with a five horse Cotillion field that lost horses to Delaware's Certified Distaff Stakes and an out-of-the-blue overnight heat at The Meadowlands.
While no one wants to deny regional racing entities their historical premier days, something has to be done to improve the "feeder system" towards the Breeders' Cup to ameliorate the quality of the once-august events that now serve only as ho-hum preparation for the richest day in North American racing. The NTRA needs to work with the racetracks to improve the scheduling of these race dates to better reflect the situation which finds the second half of the race year with a dearth of premium performers.
And while the situation has been at its' clearest the last several weeks, the same problem occurs in more obfuscated form all year long. It could simply be that we have too many tracks running too many of the same races, but there has to be an alternative scheduling scenario that can improve the situation.