INGLEWOOD, CALIF. -- When the first Breeders' Cup was run here in 1984, people in the racing business weren't carping about specific details of the big event. They were too elated and amazed that this $10 million extravaganza had become a reality.
But this year, for the first time, horsemen have been voicing strong complaints about the Breeders' Cup. New Yorkers resent the fact that these championship races are being held in California for the third time in four years. Almost nobody likes the late date of Nov. 21. Trainers of some horses who would have been favorites (the 2-year-old colt Forty Niner, the 3-year-old filly Personal Ensign) are pointedly staying away from Hollywood Park next Saturday.
Much of the criticism is provincial or self-serving, but there is no question that some aspects of the Breeders' Cup deserve to be changed -- or at least reexamined.Where and When. Even though Breeders' Cup organizers want to run it at tracks throughout the country, it is an inescapable fact that most tracks have lousy weather in November. Who wants to be shivering in the grandstand at Churchill Downs when the event is held there in 1988? Moreover, the possibility of bad weather could spoil the races themselves; championship races shouldn't be held on muddy tracks or soft turf courses.
California is the ideal site for the Breeders' Cup, but since eastern horsemen don't want to give their western rivals a permanent home-court advantage, there might be one alternative: Rotate the Breeders' Cup between California and Florida. Hialeah would be a wonderful setting for the races; the Breeders' Cup would help boost its waning prestige; the track could surely be opened for a day even when its racing dates do not fall in November.
Wherever the Breeders' Cup is run, it should be held early in November. A late date like this year's creates logistical problems for many horsemen, and it especially discourages the participation of top 2-year-olds. It's tough to run a good colt this late and then crank him up for the major Kentucky Derby prep races. If a state is going to be honored by being chosen as the site for the country's championship races, it can tailor its racing schedule to accommodate the Breeders' Cup.Medication. It is preposterous that the conditions of world championship races should be governed by the often-quirky rules of individual states, that no medication whatsoever should be permitted in the 1985 Breeders' Cup in New York, but that drugs such as Butazolidin and Lasix are allowed in Kentucky in 1988. The Breeders' Cup should set its own ground rules, and one of those rules should be: No drugs.Track Maintenance. The greatest failing of the Breeders' Cup to date has been the condition of the tracks over which the races have been run. In both 1985 and 1986, the tracks were so biased that the races were horribly unfair. The speed-favoring, rail-favoring surface at Santa Anita last year did immeasurable harm to the Breeders' Cup as a whole, because it convinced eastern horsemen that they wouldn't have a fair shot in the West. Breeders' Cup officials have seemingly been oblivious to this crucial part of their competition. They should start paying attention.Supplementary Nominations. Although the whole Breeders' Cup program is designed to encourage the nomination of horses to the series when they are born, and to penalize them when they are not, the penalties are much too high.
If a horse has not been nominated, an owner would have to pay $360,000 to run him in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which in almost any case would be an act of folly. The supplementary fees should be lowered. At the very least, the fee should make any individual horse eligible for the rest of his life. A good horse like Creme Fraiche could get two or three shots at the big money for his $360,000 fee; instead, he'll never run in the Breeders' Cup, even though he is one of the best horses in America and the third-leading money-winner of all time.Race Conditions. The conditions and distances of most of the seven Breeders' Cup events were unassailably logical. (America's championship horse race should be at 1 1/4 miles on the dirt.) But one race was an anomaly: the Breeders' Cup Mile, on the turf. America's best horses aren't grass runners to begin with, and interest in middle-distance turf races isn't overwhelming. But many of America's greatest horses are bred to run a mile on the dirt, and there is only one great mile race (the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park) on the entire U.S. racing calendar. The Mile should be shifted to the dirt. And Breeders' Cup officials might consider adding another race which annually seems conspicuous by its absence: a grass race for fillies and mares.
It's time for a few changes. Even though racing people tend to revere tradition, the Breeders' Cup is much too young for its rules and conditions to be set in concrete already.