Adding races to the Breeders' Cup menu made perfect sense. With a declining foal crop, revenues from foal and stallion nominations were down and the Breeders' Cup needed to find new sources of revenue. With the event wildly popular with bettors who will wager with both fists on anything that falls under the Breeders' Cup brand, the easiest and most effective route was obviously to add more races. More races meant more money, and everyone should have been happy.
There has to be some sort of bottom level that the Breeders' Cup can never sink below. To do otherwise cheapens the brand and the event.
In 2007, they gave us the Dirt Mile, The Filly & Mare Sprint and the Juvenile Turf. In 2008, it was the Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Marathon. In 2011, we welcomed in the Juvenile Sprint. That's six new races since 2007 and a Breeders' Cup menu that no longer looks anything like the early Breeders' Cup. Back then, there were just seven races and every one of them was a championship event of the highest quality.
As the event got bigger, the question always was: when was enough enough? Clearly, we are past that point.
While none of the new races will ever compare to the original seven when it comes to importance and prestige, a few have been welcomed additions. The Juvenile turf races always have full fields, are excellent betting races and manage to attract some quality Europeans. The Filly & Mare Sprint weakens the Sprint by keeping fillies out of that race, but it is always a highly competitive race that attracts the fastest fillies around.
And then there's the Juvenile Sprint and the Marathon.
There has to be some sort of bottom level that the Breeders' Cup can never sink below. To do otherwise cheapens the brand and the event. You probably could get people to bet on the Breeders' Cup Starter Allowance (for horses who have started for a claiming price of $20,000 or below in the past year) or the Breeders' Cup Super Sprint (contested at 2 furlongs), but you wouldn't dare go there because those races would be junk and junk does not belong in the Breeders' Cup.
Certainly, the Juvenile Sprint falls way below what should be the minimum standards for what should be a Breeders' Cup race. The race was bad enough the first year, when it drew just nine horses and was dominated by a 2-5 shot (Secret Circle), but that race looks like the Kentucky Derby compared to what's ready to line up this year to chase the $500,000 pot.
The race attracted just seven horses. There are only two stakes winners in the field and only one graded stakes winner, the European Ceiling Kitty. The race includes a maiden (Hightail) and a $22,500 claimer (Hazardous). It is the worst Breeders' Cup race ever run -- by a mile.
They might as well rename the Breeders' Cup Marathon the Breeders' Cup For Horses Not Good Enough To Run in a Real Breeders' Cup Race. These horses aren't in here because they are great marathoners but because they are second- and third-string horses that are in over their heads when they go up against true Grade 1 competition.
That's why we get winners like 2011 Marathon champ Afleet Again. He lost the One Count Stakes, the Brooklyn, the Greenwood Cup, the John's Call, the Valedictory, the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association President's Cup. He lost every race he ran in 2011 … but the Breeders' Cup Marathon.
Harvard doesn't accept students with C averages in high school. Short, fat, slow guys aren't allowed to suit up for the New York Giants.
This year the morning line favorite at 9-2 is Atigun. His claim to fame is that he wasn't that bad in the Travers, Belmont or Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Harvard doesn't accept students with C averages in high school. Short, fat, slow guys aren't allowed to suit up for the New York Giants. Jennifer Aniston is not going to date your Uncle Mort the accountant who still lives with his mother. They have standards.
Yet the Breeders' Cup, which stands for horse racing at its very best, accepts two mediocre (and that's being kind) races in its lineup. That shouldn't be. The Marathon and the Juvenile Sprint need to go.
TRIVIA QUESTION: What jockey who rode in the inaugural Breeders' Cup will ride in this year's Breeders' Cup? Pat Valenzuela. While every other jockey who rode in the 1984 Breeders' Cup is long gone, 26 years later, P. Val., of all people, is the lone survivor. He will ride Merit Man in the Juvenile Sprint.
Trainers who competed in the first Breeders' Cup and will compete again this year: Wayne Lukas, Ron McAnally, Richard Mandella, John Gosden, Alain de Royer-Dupre.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.