Breeders’ Cup Recap: Horse Racing Not Ready for Prime Time

The 29th Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships is in the books, and for me it was perhaps the most forgettable in the three decade history of the event.

Sure, I might be jaded as I had one of my worst Breeders’ Cups wagering, with not even my top pick Fort Larned ($20.80) in the Classic able to get me out of the red.

I just thought the Lasix ban was ridiculous, the speed favoring racing strip at Santa Anita muddled the results, and going prime time on NBC was a failure.

Not Ready for Prime Time

I was pretty excited to see that this year’s Breeders’ Cup would be televised in prime time (on the east coast anyway), but that enthusiasm soon wavered when I saw what horse racing was up against.

CBS had the Bayou Classic between #1 ranked Alabama and #5 LSU, FOX had #2 Oregon vs. #18 USC, and ABC was showing Oklahoma St. vs. #3 Kansas St.

The Breeders’ Cup did get a break with a solid lead in as the Pittsburgh vs. Notre Dame game went into triple overtime.

While the ratings for the Breeders’ Cup this year was 83% higher than last year’s afternoon telecast on ESPN, horse racing still came in last in the ratings.

A total of 2.79 million views watched Fort Larned go gate to wire to win the Classic, while 10.42 million were watching Alabama stay undefeated.

The Breeders’ Cup missed an opportunity to show the likely Horse of the Year, as Wise Dam was an impressive winner in the Mile, but the NBC telecast only showed one live race.

In addition, any casual sports fans channel surfing the different live events may have thought that the AARP was the title sponsor of the Breeders’ Cup.

Young fans probably don’t relate well to Tony Bennett or the host Tom Hammond, or silver haired trainers like D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert.

Hammond has been a tremendous host through the years, but perhaps to try and attract younger viewers it is time for someone like Laffitt Pincay III to take over, and the broadcast might be better served by having musical talent fans under 30 might relate better to.

Casual viewers that are watching and not wagering on the Breeders’ Cup need to have a vested interest.

Next year the Breeders’ Cup should expand to two hours and squeeze in five championship races.

Why not offer casual fans an opportunity for a free Pick 5 ticket, available online, one per email or household?

Fans can pick the numbers or just select a “quick pick” ticket, and each winner out of the five races increases the chances of hitting a nice windfall.

Hit one of five and receive a $5 betting voucher that can be cashed in at a local track or online at an ADW like Twinspires, Bet America, or Xpressbet.

Hitting 2 of 5 gets a lucky fan $20, hitting 3 of 5 $50, 4 of 5 $100, and if a fan is lucky enough to have all five winners, they can share in a guaranteed pot of $2 million.

The $2 million could be produced by canceling the Juvenile Sprint and Marathon, and tracks, ADW’s, and the Breeders’ Cup could toss in the other $1 million.

West Coast Bias

The racing strip at Santa Anita over the two day Breeders’ Cup was favoring speed, with only Groupie Doll in the Filly & Mare Sprint and Calidoscopio in the Marathon able to make up serious ground over the surface to win.

I thought Shanghai Bobby, Trinniberg, and Fort Larned benefitted the most from the surface.

In the past few Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, horses based in New York had a dismal record, but fared much better this year, which may be related to so much sand being added to the racing surface. Some were calling it “Little Sandy,” comparing it to the Belmont Park surface, which is called “Big Sandy.”

Horses that were off poorly or were closers did not have a fair shot, and that was a shame.

Juveniles Without Juice

Rick Arthur, the equine director of the California Horse Racing Board was proud to announce after the races that none of the juveniles, who were racing without Lasix which was banned this year for two-year-olds, had bled.

That was disputed by trainers John Sadler and Mark Casse, who said they had juveniles that had bled after the races.

Sadler said Capo Bastone and Monument both bled, and Casse said Spring in the Air bled.

Casse told the Daily Racing Form, “My filly bled pretty significantly. She’s still coughing this morning. Some horses never come back from it. The shame of it is they don’t give you an indication then ‘boom.”

I am all for getting rid of drugs and cheaters in the game, but the Breeders’ Cup is not the place to experiment, and Lasix is not the first drug that comes to mind that needs to be eliminated.

I talked to quite a few horseplayers that said they were going to cut back their wagering (or not wager at all) on the juvenile races, and judging by the field size in several of the juvenile races, trainers were not too happy about the Lasix ban.

“Drugs” turned into a storyline at this year’s Breeders’ Cup, and it did not need to.

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