In my opinion, racing fans can expect two and maybe three changes to the current Breeders’ Cup format after this year’s 26th running on Nov. 6-7 during Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet.
* This will be the final Breeders’ Cup run over a synthetic race track. The backlash Breeders’ Cup officials have felt over holding the event at Santa Anita and its synthetic Pro-Ride surface for an unprecedented second consecutive year — not to mention the number of horsemen who continue to jump off the artificial surface bandwagon by the day — are too strong for event organizers to ignore.
* This will also be the final year where the Breeders’ Cup will include 14 races. In these tough economic times when horse racing numbers — both in attendance and betting handle — are in decline, officials just can’t afford to continue to offer as many races. Look for the less-popular races like the Dirt Mile and Juvenile Turf and/or Juvenile Fillies Turf to perhaps fall by the wayside. The Marathon may survive only because it has a purse of only $500,000.
* This could also be the final year of the two-day format, although this is more up in the air than the two aforementioned items.
I had an interview with Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli recently and he said a decision on the two-day setup, the number of races and any potential purse cuts will be coming soon.
“What we’ve always said internally and publicly is that we’re going to evaluate the two-day format and the 14-race program card following this year,” Avioli said. “This will be the third year that we’ve had a two-day format and the second year that we will have had 14 championship races. Some of the criteria that we’re going to use in evaluating it are going to be the graded stakes races, the graded quality, it’s going to be the level of participation that we have in these races from the top horses in the world.
“Each race in the world gets a ranking from the International Federation of Horse Racing Authority, and last year for example the Classic was the No. 1 race in the entire world. And we had a handful of other races in the top 10 in the world. So we want to make sure the races that we’re putting on are quality races with quality fields. We’re also going to take a look at the total amount of wagering that we receive on these races because that’s relevant to our bottom line.
“Last year was the first time we had a two-day format with a full Breeders’ Cup card on Friday and I don’t think this gets noted enough, but we set a North American record of over fifty million dollars for the most money ever wagered on a weekday in North America on horse racing. So from our one-year experience, the two-day format and the 14-race card worked very well, but we’re going to take a wait-and-see attitude and see how it goes this year and then make any changes for next year that need to be made following that evaluation.
“We had approximately 30,000 people in New Jersey at Monmouth (Park) for the first Breeders’ Cup Friday (2007), and that was in an absolute torrential downpour. What we have to constantly remind people is that this is something new. This is only the second year of this and if this is going to succeed, which I believe it will, it’s going to take three, five, 10 years for it to reach its full potential.”