The Brave New World Of Breeders Cup

I’ll bet you know that the Breeders How Many Cups In 32 Oz World Championship is a series of races that is televised on one power-packed card. You may also know that Breeders Cup is staged annually in autumn, and that the host race track rotates from year to year, much like the NFL Super Bowl alternates between host cities. And I’ll bet you’ve heard of at least some of the individual races, which historically are the Classic, the Sprint, the Turf, the Mile, the Distaff, the Juvenile, the Juvenile Fillies, and the Filly And Mare Turf.

You probably know that Invasor (2006 Horse of the Year) won the Breeders Cup Classic in 2006, and you may even know that Bernardini finished behind him in second. If you are a real racing aficionado, you know that the first Breeders Cup was held at Hollywood Park in 1984, and if you ever tried out for Jeopardy you may know that the Filly And Mare Turf was inaugurated at Gulfstream Park in 1999. That’s what you might know.

But I’ll bet you don’t know how a horse qualifies to run in a Breeders Cup Championship race in the first place. And that is the best kept secret of Breeders Cup, much to the chagrin of Breeders Cup organizers. Historically, the general public expresses only mild interest in Breeders Cup until about two weeks before the event. And that is the reason why the NTRA (National Thoroughbred Racing Association) and Breeders Cup Limited (Ltd) are changing the rules for 2007. The new program is being formally called the Breeders Cup Challenge, but its popular nickname is Win And You’re In, and it’s going to award 24 automatic berths for Breeders Cup 2007. The winner of each of 24 important stakes and handicap events (on 6 big days in the summer and early fall of 2007) gets a free ticket to Breeders Cup. This plan is not a complete overhaul, but it’s a major change to the status quo, and it’s high time. The Breeders Cup Challenge is a brainstorm of Breeders Cup Ltd along with the leadership of several of the best racetracks across the country.

The way it worked before was a two-tiered system, and that essentially will not change. The first tier is a point system and the second tier is an expert panel. Up to 14 starters are allowed in each Breeders Cup race. If 14 or less horses are entered for a race, no problem, everybody gets in. But if more than 14 horses are entered then the race is oversubscribed. This is where the Breeders Cup points system kicks in. During the year, horses that finish first, second, or third in Graded stakes races earn points. More points are earned in Grade 1 events than in Grade 2 events. For example, a winner of a Grade 1 race earns ten points, while a winner of a Grade 2 race earns six points.

Graded Stakes Points for dirt races will be the only points counted for horses pre-entered in dirt Championship Races and Graded Stakes Points for turf races will be the only points counted for horses pre-entered in turf Championship Races. Graded Stakes Points points are tallied up during the year, and the number of points a horse earns determines if he makes the cut or not.

There are two caveats. The first is the way points are counted for juveniles. All Graded Stakes Points [from dirt and turf races] will be counted for the three two-year old Championship Races. The other caveat concerns artificial surfaces [Polytrack and Cushion Track]. Points earned on artificial surfaces are counted as dirt points. This causes some ugly problems for the Breeders Cup. For example, Student Council won the Pacific Classic [Del Mar] on Polytrack and earned an automatic berth to the Breeders Cup Classic at Monmouth Park. Should his connections choose to enter him in the Classic, Student Council will have virtually no chance to win [on the Monmouth Park dirt course]. Personally, I feel that automatic berths should be awarded only from races run on the same surface as the Breeders Cup race.

The first seven positions in an oversubscribed field are awarded based on the point system. These seven get to run based strictly on their points. The last seven positions are determined by a combination of points earned and the opinions of an expert panel. This provides a “buffer zone” to allow late bloomers to get a chance to race against their peers. Dreaming Of Anna won the 2006 Juvenile Fillies after being awarded a berth by the expert panel, even though she failed to qualify based on points.

The two-tier system is still in place for 2007, but it has to make room for the Breeders Cup Challenge program (Win And You’re In). Every time a horse wins an automatic bid he uses up one of the seven positions awarded on points. This means the expert panel still gets to award the final seven berths in an oversubscribed field. The new rules directly effect a horse that is on the bubble. A horse that is ranked seventh on points can be bounced to eighth by a horse who wins an automatic berth. Dropping to eighth in the points rankings places him at the mercy of the expert panel. This is sure to spice up the Breeders Cup selection process.

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