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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

What the Breeders' Cup Classic Means to Thoroughbred Racing

By | Sports

For most Saratoga residents and for many racing fans in general, the season for horse racing is limited to the Saratoga meet. But if you really want to see two days of the most concentrated racing talent in America and some of Europe's most capable runners, don’t miss the upcoming Breeders’ Cup races. On Friday and Saturday, November 2-3, Santa Anita will offer 15 Breeders’ Cup races with purses totaling more than $25 million.


John R. Gaines announced the formation of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in April of1982. The inaugural event was launched at Hollywood Park in 1984 and the venue has been delivered every fall to bring us to the 29th running this year.

Gaines’s hope was for the season-ending championship of Thoroughbred racing to promote racing and unite the industry. The Eclipse Awards, which honor Horse of the Year and other champions in the sport, are voted on annually by representatives of Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers Association and the NTRA (National Thoroughbred Association). Only the classics bear equal influence with the BC in determining champions. Gaines was a visionary and gave relentless energy to improving not just racing but every facet of the Thoroughbred industry.

Born in Sherburne, N.Y. in 1928 to the family that established Gaines Dog Food Company, John Gaines developed Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky. on the former Greentree property. He was also the founding chairman of the Kentucky Horse Park, a 1,200 acre working horse farm “dedicated to man’s relationship with the horse.”

Champion and BC Classic-winner Cigar is retired there, along with dual BC mile winner, Da Hoss, and New York-bred classic winner Funny Cide. Gaines was one of the founding members of the National Thoroughbred Association, precursor to the NTRA (National Thoroughbred Racing Association.) He helped to develop the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center as well as the Gaines Center for the Humanities at the University of Kentucky.

Gaines died in 2005, and I’m sure if he were alive today he would be proud of the stature of the Breeders’ Cup but disappointed to see how its existence has weakened regional racing. One has to wonder what he would think of the event being lengthened to two days or how he would feel about Churchill and CA tracks hosting more often than all other tracks combined.

New York has hosted five Breeders’ Cup events, Aqueduct 1985, Belmont 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2005. Why the long hiatus--that’s anyone’s guess--but the uncertainties surrounding NYRA have to be a large part of the equation. The BC event brings an estimated $60 million impact to the host city. The mile and a half Belmont track with its sweeping turns is an ideal stage for world-class racing and its a pitiful shame that the Big Apple is repeatedly missing out on the cash flow which accompanies this event. Historically New York horses have fared below expectations in CA Breeders’ Cups. It’s a long ship, a big climate change and the racing surfaces are forever changing out west.  

All major CA tracks were forced through a mandate of the state to convert their dirt surfaces to synthetic surfaces in 2007. Santa Anita chose Cushion Track but that surface proved to drain poorly and the track was eventually allowed to return to traditional dirt in 2010. Track management has had an ongoing struggle to get just the right mixture of clay and sand and as the November 2-3 dates loom close, the concerns over the track grow.

We have no fewer than a dozen major stakes winners from the Saratoga meet expected to compete in several of the 15 races for purses totaling more than $25 million for the two-day event. Hopefully they’ll run to form in the shadow of the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains, the backdrop to Santa Anita Park.

Could the Breeders’ Cup ever come to Saratoga? You do the math-it requires a big grandstand capable of 50 to 60,000 seats and cooperative weather is a huge plus. Next it requires a jurisdiction in position to bid on the contract. November weather in the northeast can be cold and wet, so it isn’t just NYRA keeping this event further south.

Tune in next week and I’ll see what I can do to provide you with more information on whose shipping to CA and all kinds of details to try to entice you to reserve the weekend of November 2-3 to watch this great event.

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