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Discourse on the Distaff (3/3/2008)

by Jerod Dinkin (editor’s note: Jerod Dinkin blogs regularly at Horse Player Daily and for Canterbury Park.)
It’s Sunday night and time for reflection after a busy day of racing at Santa Anita on Big Cap day. Finally, horseplayers were treated to a day that once made Southern California racing great. From start to finish, the card provided interesting maiden races, deep downhill turf heats, and Grade I action. Unfortunately, the quality that once exemplified the circuit is a shell of its former self. While the brief reprieve from the monotony of a typical SoCal racing was refreshing, quietly, the marketing geniuses at the NTRA/Breeders’ Cup managed to once again damage the overall strength and appeal of the game.
Negativity shrouds this sport on a regular basis and I hate to pile it on. Unfortunately, in most cases, the oft-criticized NTRA deserves it. In case you haven’t heard, even more changes were set in motion for the two-day Breeders’ Cup event. New to the Cup in 2007 were three races, all of which were run on Friday (the Juvenile Turf, Dirt Mile, and Filly and Mare Sprint). The powers that be have introduced three additional races for 2008 as well, the Turf Sprint, Dirt Marathon, and Juvenile Fillies Turf.
The Turf Sprint will be run at a distance of 6.5 furlongs despite the fact that the increasingly popular distance of 5 furlongs represents a majority of the turf sprints run in America today. 6.5 furlongs is a bit of an odd distance; longer than a classic sprinting distance and shorter than a route. The Dirt Marathon is simply an excuse for added handle, which I can get behind despite the issues with carding such an uninteresting race. There are few races in this country at 1 ½ miles on the dirt; our breeding is geared toward speed, not stamina. As such, this Breeders’ Cup race is likely to resemble a typical Grade III event at best with a lack of available talent at that distance. Furthermore, it’s unknown at this time what surface will be utilized at Santa Anita with the recent debacle known as the Arcadia Cushion Track. At least the Juvenile Fillies Turf is a logical addition to the newly added Juvenile Turf and a victory for those fans of Title IX.
We can debate the merits of additional races, but at the end of the day, its handle that makes the game tick and the Cup should not be criticized for attempting to increase the amount of dollars wagered by carding additional races. However, the newly created schedule is troubling to say the least. “Female Championship Day” is the title of the Friday Breeders’ Cup card. I repeat, “Female Championship Day” is the title of the Friday Breeders’ Cup card.
Female Championship day includes all BC races carded for female horses and will be run on Friday, October 24th:
$2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies$1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf$1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint$2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf$2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic
Not only are all of the races for female horse relegated to one day, the Distaff has been renamed the Ladies’ Classic. Terms such as Derby, Distaff, and Futurity are longstanding identifiers for marquee races. What kind of reaction would ensue if the Kentucky Derby were to change its name to the Young Gentleman and Ladies’ Classic? Ladies’ Classic sounds like something better suited for the All England Tennis and Croquet Club of Wimbledon.
To make matters worse, the new schedule relegates one of the best races of the year, the championship event for female horses, the Distaff (I refuse to call it the Ladies’ Classic moving forward) to a day that most of the world is working. Yes, despite the recession, people still work……..
Here is what the Breeders’ Cup Website says about the new look Friday card (
The Ladies’ Classic, the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the new Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf will take place on Friday. In addition to the championship events at the track, the Breeders’ Cup plans to develop a series of Championship festivities designed to promote the new Friday format, including:· Cause-related programs focused on women’s health· On-site initiatives for fans and other guests of the event· Consumer promotions in the Los Angeles marketplace and on a national basis· Simulcast events in multiple markets throughout North America· Special merchandise designed for Championship Friday· First of its kind sponsor activation elements, broadcast and other media programs designed to support both the racing and charitable components
Do you honestly think for even a moment, that there is one member of the NTRA/Breeders’ Cup that understands how to grow market share for the sport/franchise that it represents. It’s not about social programs. It’s not about creating a day for women and female horses. It’s about driving new business and increasing existing business to its maximum potential. The above efforts will not drive additional handle, the lifeblood of the game. In this era, the communication age, simulcast dollars are what butters the bread. Not on track promotions. Not women’s health day. Not special merchandise.
Ontrack handle for all 11 races on Saturday at the 2007 Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth was $12.7 Million out of the total handle of $125.3 Million. Yep, just over 10% on the entire wagering pool came from on track.
Here’s a kooky idea: Run the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday and SUNDAY. I’m a serious handicapper that must take Friday off of work to watch and wager on the Cup. I also take Kentucky Oaks day off, but I’m in the slim minority, even for the most serious of fans. My money will go through the windows no matter the level of ineptitude of the Breeders’ Cup. It’s the occasional fan and wagering patron that is missed in this equation.
There is millions of dollars worth of potential handle lost by running BC races on Friday. People less serious about horse racing than I simply won’t take a day off of work for the Friday card, but would potentially churn handle over the weekend. Sure, it’s fairly easy to wager online and by phone and still get your bets in. However, I guarantee the average patron spends more $$$ by attending all day, or most of a day at Canterbury Park, other OTBs, or even an online wagering provider without having the workday interfere.
Once again, industry executives have grossly missed the point and in the process done themselves a disservice by renaming a marquee event and relegating it to the minor leagues of Friday (think Nextel Cup versus Nationwide series or the PGA Tour versus the Nationwide Tour). Real Estate is all about location, location, location. Racing is all about handle, handle, handle. Make it easier for people to bet, not harder. Make pragmatic decisions that grow revenue over the long term, not surface level snap decisions that fail to create real change. This entire disaster amounts to what ostensibly feels like a manufactured marketing gimmick without real merit.