Santa Anita Park is a lovely place and when desert brush on the nearby mountains is not afire, ash is not raining from the sky, the earth is not quaking, wind from the west is sufficient to disburse the smog and the temperature in autumn is closer to 70 degrees than 100, a fine venue for racing.
Breeder's Cup leadership has gone to great lengths to sully what was once the focus of the racing season.
It is certainly picturesque. Horses race in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains. The place has some history and the typical crowd on a big day is apt to include a celebrity or two. Apparently, however, those now in control of the Breeders' Cup have failed to come to grips with the downside of too much of a good thing.
Breeder's Cup leadership has gone to great lengths to sully what was once the focus of the racing season. First, the expansion of the event into a two-day hodge-podge of races, many of which lack consequence and standing, abandoned the central concept that these are races intended to determine championships in every case. Now, on Monday, comes the announcement that the event will be couched at Santa Anita in 2014, a third consecutive Southern California renewal of what was once intended by its founders to be a moveable feast. After the 2014 running, five of the last seven Breeders' Cups will have been run at Santa Anita.
"Santa Anita has proven to be an outstanding host for our championships, providing horsemen and fans around the world with a first class facility and one of the greatest experiences in sports. We are delighted to extend our partnership with Santa Anita for a third consecutive year," Craig Fravel, Breeders' Cup President and CEO said in a statement that accompanied the announcement of what is an absurd decision. "We also value our relationship with the Southern California business and entertainment community, who have demonstrated long time dedication and support of the Breeders' Cup since our inception in 1984."
The good thing about press-release speak is that there is requirement for neither insight nor truth. The Breeders' Cup has been staged in Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, Florida and Canada as well as New York, Kentucky and California. In every case and in various weathers, it has work as intended by its founders.
It is possible to look past most of these markets, but New Yorkers do not take being shunned with grace and this decision is a blatant insult to the nation's largest racing market. New York, not Southern California, where the sport is on life support but the weather is better, is the epicenter of American racing and of all the settings in which the Breeders' Cup has been couched, none is better or more accommodating than Belmont Park. More Grade 1 races are run at the racetracks in New York than anywhere in the United States. Yet, the Breeders' Cup has turned a cold shoulder to New York since 2005.
When the determination of locale was made for 2014 (or 2013 for that matter) it is unlikely that anyone involved in the decision made this point: Races run at Belmont Park, home to the world's only 12-furlong dirt racecourse, are more truly run than those at any other track in the nation. It is also unlikely that the merits of Belmont's two turf courses came up in the process of debate, though they present conditions more accommodative to European horses than any in the United States.
The present-day Breeders' Cup resembles the original concept in no more than the most obtuse sense and this is not a development for the better.
The Breeders' Cup was originally intended to serve as a championship-defining event, each race with Eclipse Award ramifications that would by virtue of portability expose the best horses of a given year to patrons of the sport in a variety of cities and settings.
Originally, the founders established seven races, a program now expanded to 14 -- several meaningless in terms of the establishment of champions -- spread over two days. The present-day Breeders' Cup resembles the original concept in no more than the most obtuse sense and this is not a development for the better. Nine races run on one afternoon would be sufficient. The others do nothing for the event except create betting handle on an otherwise slow Friday. Only a fractional sliver of the current event -- one hour -- commands broadcast-network exposure. In the grand scheme, the Breeders' Cup is contracting in terms of importance and prestige. Squatting in Southern California will only deepen the self-inflicted wounds.
Would New Yorkers yawn and ignore the Friday portion of the current Breeders' Cup? Probably. They have seen the best horses of every age and are adept at distinguishing the important from the trivial. Would not a Breeders' Cup held in the Eastern time zone eliminate the remaining hour of prime-time network exposure? Most certainly. But most racing fans -- and this is an event for fans, not the uninitiated -- are more comfortable with major races run before 8:30 p.m. Eastern time.
It appears unfortunately that the Breeders' Cup priorities are set and all things considered it is likely that it will remain in Southern California -- off Broadway -- where what was once America's Day at the Races will eventually become a local event.