Saturday, 11 July 2009

BC Thoughts – The Juvie Turf Is A Bad Idea Now, But It Doesn’t Have To Stay That Way

As I was typing up a rather lenghty response to a post by Glenn Craven, trying to find some middle ground between our opinions, a quite radical idea popped into my mind.

Craven (of Fugue For Tinhorns, for those who don’t know) argues that the Breeders Cup shouldn’t cut down on its current 14-race program (or 15, including the Grand National). I disagree for the most part, but one good argument he brought up was that the BC, initially intended primarily as a North American Championship, should indeed include races for every division, even obscure ones.

On the other hand, the BC is also intended to attract more interest to the sport, and has a somewhat unhealthy focus on presenting itself as a “World Championship” (a pointless focus, as I’ve argued elsewhere). To that end, races like the Juvenile Turf divisions rightfully attract ridicule, and races like the Dirt Mile or F&M Sprint are just diminishing the quality of the BC’s real Championship races. They thin out the quality, provide the Discreet Cats of this world a chance to add a BC win to their resume without actually facing Championship opponents; and ultimately water down the prestige of the BC as a whole.

The same was true for the 12f Marathon, although at its new 14f distance, I find that race a most welcome addition. See, I’m not generally against using such races to encourage a shift in the breeding industry, I just don’t see much reason to encourage a shift towards the breeding of more turf horses with premature and/or sprint-oriented pedigrees in America. Plus, a 14f dirt BC Marathon still is an international "championship quality" race, if only because Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are the only other racing jurisdictions with a heart for the dirt stayer.

Still, Mr Craven has a point that there should be Championship races for the Turf Sprint and Turf Juvenile divisions.

But should those races be run in their current form, as part of the BC?

The Juvenile Turf races as contested last year are a joke. They will more often than not be won by second- or third-string overseas raiders, or occasionally by a top American (dirt) juvenile with a strong turf pedigree, whose connections decide to skip the more testing “real” BC Juvenile divisions. Same goes for the BC Turf Sprint.

However, such Championship races could make sense outside the current BC structure. In the process they could offer the first-ever productive application of the “Win & You’re In”-concept in racing, and finally offer a good idea to fill the BC Friday.

How about running those races as Finals, open only to horses that have qualified via the currently existing, regionally-focused, juvenile turf races?

Those races would be closed off to overseas competition, except if they go through the qualification process, effectively eliminating the “quick hit” option. They could be included in the main BC program or run independently of it as part of a separate Championship day, one more geared towards existing racing fans. If run on Grand National day (on another track, obviously) there might even be potential for some cross-promotion.

Unlike the current, haphazard BC W&YI, this concept could be effective in both increasing the status of the qualifiers and in creating buzz for the final. The main difference being that there is an actual connection between the elims and the final, other than in the “random races to determine 6 of 12 starters, effectively meaning top horses can just as well skip”-system the BC currently offers. This way, divisions and races that otherwise go largely unnoticed might gain some buzz within the racing world. I'm usually not a fan of playoff systems in the thoroughbred world, but in this instance it might be just the right thing.
Also, this concept provides an American Championship in a division in which American horses, generally speaking, aren’t very competitive in International company. Thus, it would be much more effective as a stimulus. Another perk would be that horsemen with top (dirt) horses couldn’t as easily use the Turf BC as a fallback option, so the extra race wouldn’t take away from the established one.


  1. As always a very interesting read over here.

    I do have to take exception to the notion that the juvenile turf races at the Breeders' Cup have been "a joke." I think they were less well-subscribed, and with lesser talent, in the first two runnings in no small part because, due to U.S. Graded Stakes Committee rules, they had to be staged as ungraded races. That prompted primarily U.S. horses and, as you note, somewhat lesser European "raiders" to try them, rather than bigtime Euro 2-year-olds.

    In a couple of years when those are Grade 1s (because they have to follow the regulated progression; they're G2s this year, I believe), I think you'll see more and more top European horses sent to contest them.

    Even so, the first running of the Juvenile Turf, in a rainstorm at Monmouth, was won by Nownownow, who has gone on to become a Grade 2 turf winner at Santa Anita at age 4. And third place went to Wesley Ward's Cannonball, who nearly became his third stakes winner at his historic 2009 Royal Ascot stand, finishing second in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee.

    Last year at Santa Anita, victory went to Donavitum(GB), who has won a stakes on the French turf at 3. And second went to Westphalia(IRE) who has three group-placings at 3 including a pair of G1s in France. The event was run in "racehorse time," too, 1:34 and change for a mile.

    The filly race was run for the first time last year and won by Maram, a U.S.-bred daughter of Sahm (a turf horse and only son of Salsabil, first filly in 90 years to win the Irish Derby). She was a G3 winner on grass prior, but unfortunately hasn't raced since. Second went to Heart Shaped, who was a stakes winner in Ireland at 2 and has been Group 3-placed back in Ireland at 3. Third was Laragh, who indeed was a U.S.-bred crossing over dirt-to-turf -- or actually synthetic to turf, which is very different -- and she was a Grade 1 winner on synthetic. She has come back at 3 to win a turf stakes at a mile and a sixteenth at Churchill Downs, so she's a legitimate racehorse on grass.

    I really do believe that all the divisions the series presently supports are worthy, and that the field quality in the "lesser" races will improve along with the grades awarded to them as they've paid their dues.

    If the Juvenile Fillies Turf is a $1 million Grade 1 in a couple of years, and it will be, connections worldwide will be kicking down the door to get in. Same with the Marathon, even if the purse stays at "only" $500,000.

    But that's my opinion, it remains to be seen. ... Or not, if all these races are scratched.

  2. Here’s why I don’t like the F&M Sprint:

    The winner, Ventura, previously finished second in both the CashCall and (open) Woodbine Miles, both on the turf. She would have been a great addition to the BC Mile, but instead she took the easy money.

    The runner-up, Indian Blessing, had been ridiculously dominant in F&M dirt sprints all year. It would have been interesting to see her compete in open company in the BC Sprint, while a F&M Sprint win wouldn't have been very interesting from a sporting perspective. She later ran second in the (open) Golden Shaheen in Dubai, where most of the Championship races offer more more interesting storylines, not least because there are few if any possibilities for the stars to hide from each other.

    The horses behind those two really hadn’t done anything to justify a million-dollar purse, or attract interest from the broader public.

    So that’s what the F&M Sprint is: the BC pays a million bucks on a race that draws interest from their more prestigious races, and which otherwise turns into a 200K for the third-place purse.

    I’d prefer having the top two in the other races, thus increasing the quality of racing’s product and attracting more public interest. The remaining, non-Championship-caliber horses could compete in one or two 150K stakes somewhere else. That’s how a real sport would handle it.

    Let’s not forget that the reason to add these races in the first place was to drive up the handle and increase the purse of the BC Classic & Turf, not because the BC believed that they would add value to the program.

    The very last thing American racing needs is more opportunities for the top horses to stay clear of each other. The sport will continue to plummet as long as it doesn’t understand that public interest comes from interesting races.

    As to the new Juvie Turfs: G1 or G2, few if any of the first-class Euro and Japanese 2yo’s will be shipped for the these races (okay, in retrospect Donativum was one of the best, but he wasn’t considered one until well after he was aimed at the race; his Tatts Million win improved well into the spring).

    Meanwhile, North America produces a very good pure turf juvenile every now and then, but not half a dozen per year. Thus, marketing these races as a "World Championship" really does seem to be a joke.

  3. I agree with the previous posters that the Juvenile Turf races should not be marketed as world championships. However, in this age of everyone having easy access to tons of domestic information, excluding the overseas raiders is silly as it would penalize one of the groups that pay for the Breeder's Cup: The bettors. I spent the time and effort to know that Crowded House was sold for a big number prior to the Tattersalls Million where he was 2nd to Donativum. I paid attention BC morning to the G1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, which he dominated. This was like going back to the days before Beyer Speed Figures. I felt Donativum should literally be 4-5 and he was 9-2 - and only then after Frank Lyons kept telling everyone listening (thankfully, not everyone was listening) what I already knew. The only fear I had was Westfalia so I played an exacta that also hit in addition to, by far, my largest win bet in years which I left for a foregone conclusion.

  4. @Brian

    Interesting point.

    From a betting standpoint I would miss them too. From a fan perspective I sure wouldn't.

    Another group that finances the BC are American breeders, and if I were one of them I would be a little miffed that part of my BC money goes to financing an easy pay-day for Coolmore's #3 juvenile.