- Bill Finley
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Wayne Lukas' barn on the Churchill Downs backstretch may not be the place to find live Breeders' Cup contenders. Lukas, who, with 18 trips to the winner's circle, has won more Breeders' Cup races than anyone else, will start two long shots this year in Hamazing Destiny (Sprint) and Optimizer (Juvenile). But it is a terrific place to find Breeders' Cup opinions and common-sense approaches to racing's problems.
He generally likes the new Breeders' Cup, which looks nothing like the old Breeders' Cup, a one-day event that included just seven, and then eight, races and made its way to sites across North America. But there are some things he doesn't like, namely that Belmont Park seems to have fallen off the Breeders' Cup's radar screen.
The Breeders' Cup has not been held in New York since 2005.
Churchill knows how to put on a big event. No track gets the kind of attendance for the Breeders' Cup that Churchill does.
”-- Trainer D. Wayne Lukas
"We need to stay at the bigger racetracks," he said. "Churchill knows how to put on a big event. No track gets the kind of attendance for the Breeders' Cup that Churchill does. But we have to start including Belmont again because New York is the media center of the country and you have to have a presence there to give the event the most exposure. I was disappointed when it went back to Santa Anita for next year. It should have gone to Belmont. I think they should have it at Belmont a couple of years in a row, if NYRA would want that. I'd be fine with two or three years in a row in New York before going back to Churchill or California."
He is also fine with the addition of so many races, most of which are not championship events in the true sense of the word. But he would like to see them separated from the marquee races.
"I think what they have done is a case of a double-edged sword," he said. "It was a little bit classier when you had fewer races and all the emphasis was on those particular championship events. By the same token, from the standpoint of the owners, trainers, breeders, there is a lot more opportunity out there. There is the opportunity for a 2-year-old to run six furlongs in the fall for $500,000 or a 2-year-old filly on the grass for $1 million. I like that.
"But what I would do is put all the lesser races on the Friday card and I would put all the better races back on the Saturday. Having the filly day and trying to copy the Oaks-Derby set up, I don't thank that has worked. I would have the Ladies' Classic, the Filly & Mare Turf, the Juvenile Fillies on Saturday when we have eight marquee races that everybody can relate to."
On this year's Classic, he's not sold on either of the two favorites, Uncle Mo or Havre de Grace.
"With a filly in the fall, you want to be careful that you are not on the downside of things a little bit," he said. "A colt is liable to bounce back from a race like the Jockey Club Gold Cup and run well in the Classic more so than a filly. I think Havre de Grace is one of the contenders but I would be a little bit surprised if she were to win. I would also be little surprised if Uncle Mo won it. I am a terrible handicapper and I always admit that. But in a championship event, to win it you have to have all the ducks in row. With both horses, I question whether they'll be at their best. Uncle Mo might not be ready for his best. Havre de Grace may be a little bit removed from what was her best."
"There are a lot of reasons to like Flat Out, but it's just too wide open," Lukas said. "I'm not going to bet it."
Stan Bergstein, RIP: Stan Bergstein passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 87. He may have been the finest person I have encountered in my many years of covering racing. Bergstein, best known for his many roles in harness racing but also a columnist for the Daily Racing Form, cared deeply about racing, whether standardbred or thoroughbred. Every decision he made during his professional life was based not on what was best for Stan but what was best for racing. That's among the reasons he was a tireless advocate for integrity and it pained him deeply that both breeds were constantly digging out from under the rubble caused by drug cheats.
Like many, I became a Stan Bergstein fan in the 70s when watching him on the old OTB racing shows from Yonkers and Roosevelt. As a young journalist, I was always picking his brain and he was always eager to help. For the last many years, I considered him a friend.
Racing didn't just lose a wonderful man Wednesday. The human race did.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at email@example.com.