Power Cap

Power cap- existential handicapping

16 September 2010

Doesn't look like a championship meet

Belmont’s fall meet is well under way and this meet going under the nomenclature of the fall championship meet is clearly false advertising. The stakes program that once was the envy of every other racing secretary in the nation has been savaged by overly cautious trainers, stakes races being moved to different dates, and competition from other racetracks.

The Breeders Cup has been a double edged sword for the national racing scene, it has given racing a “Super Bowl” style event to show off the sport’s stars. On the other end it has changed how trainers manage their horses during the course of the year. Case in point would be the 1996 season of Skip Away where after competing in all of the triple crown races he ran in the Ohio Derby, Haskell, Travers, Woodbine Million, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Last year after Summer Bird ran in two of the triple crown races he ran in the Haskell, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup with the ultimate goal being a start in the Breeders Cup Classic. The lighter schedule high caliber horses are on is due to trainers making decisions based on speed figures and avoiding a bounce race. This trend is most prevalent with the juveniles, Pletcher’s top two year old Uncle Mo won by open lengths in his debut and the Champagne is his next start. If he wins that race and the Breeders Cup Juvenile to go three for three there is no denying him the juvenile eclipse honors. When Favorite Trick won his Horse of Year and Juvenile eclipse award in 1997 he was undefeated in eight starts with victories at four different racetracks.

Opening weekend at Belmont used to have a solid lineup of high class stakes action, this year featured second string older turf runners on Saturday and New York bred turf routers on Sunday. Back in 2004, only seven years ago the Woodward, Gazelle, Man O’ War, and Ruffian were on the opening weekend card. Saratoga now hosts the Woodward and Ruffian, the Gazelle is now on Thanksgiving weekend at Aqueduct, and the Man O’ War is now in July. The Forest Hills Handicap, which is a race that Artax and Delaware Township won is no longer on the schedule. The Cowdin is not on the schedule either, Coronado’s Quest and Easy Goer were prominent winners of this race.

NY racing is facing tough competition from Philadelphia Park, the Pennsylvania Derby with a million dollar purse is now a week before the Jockey Club Gold Cup. This gives the trainer of a good three year old a chance at a good purse and extra rest before the Breeders Cup. I would say this race also drains from the Jerome, but that is not on the schedule this year. Recent history of the Beldame has been that it features small fields and short priced winners, the Cotillion stakes has been siphoning off of this race for years. Back in 2004 Ashado won the Cotillion before going on to victory in the Distaff and last year Careless Jewel passed up on a meeting with Music Note for the Cotillion.

The fall meeting at Belmont was once considered on par with the Saratoga, in the last two years it has taken a step backwards in terms of quality. Looking at the above reasons it is not hard to see why. Maybe with the green lighting of the Aqueduct VLTs a few days ago the racing quality will improve thanks to an increased purse structure. Until then, what you see is what you get.


Steve Zorn said...

The Breeders Cup is the real culprit in diminishing the fall Belmont meet, as trainers aim beyond Belmont, and races are adjusted to serve as BC preps (see the reduction in the distance of the Jockey Club Gold Cup as the prime example).

And you're right, of course, about competition from Philly and other tracks. In a rational world, the stakes schedule would be coordinated, but I don't see that happening soon.

Anonymous said...

What have these people done to the thoroughbred? Citation at Belmont in 1958 uses a win in the one mile Sysonby on a Wednesday to tune up for a win in two mile JC Gold Cup on Saturday.

Anonymous said...

Should have checked that. Meant 1948.

Joseph Burns said...

Horse racing was a different sport back in the 40's and 50's. There were a lot more operations like Calumet and the Phipps stable that raced purely for sport. Syndicates brought more owners in, but the main concern is the bottom line now for the conglomerate owners.

Brian Appleton said...

Good post, the Breeders' Cup is a wonderful idea but it does make many of the older, more prestigious races suffer and has "dumbed-down" the way horses are trained and campaigned throughout the racing year.

The real problem probably came from the lack of a single coordinated effort from a horse governing body to create a schedule for the Breeders' Cup that would add to and not take away from the high-caliber races already being run in the fall, races that used to determine championships.