Breeders’ Cup Friday: good news, bad news

Game over, Breeders’ Cup Day 1. I left school at the earliest possible moment and managed to get home in time to see all of the filly/mare races, to place wagers, and to end up in the black for about $60. For a $2 bettor like me, that’s a profit about which to be happy. And how lucky am I, unlike so many others, to have a job that in this instance, permitted me to see the races yesterday? Thank you, Pacific Time Zone.

So: I got to see the races. Horses I like did well (Rose Catherine may well be my new favorite). I made money. This BC skeptic is changing her colors, right?

Yeah, well, not just yet.

Frequently during Friday’s broadcast, I heard references to history. I heard references to “world championships.” And really, both of them rather confused me.

I don’t get this idea that running races on synthetic surfaces “evens the field,” as I heard so often on Friday. Does it make the races more attractive and accessible to European (and other) turf horses? Sure. But, how, exactly, is that an “evening”? Check out Andy Serling’s Twitter feed for commentary on dirt horses at this year’s Breeders’ Cup, but it doesn’t take a handicapping genius to recognize that running a dirt horse in this and last year’s Breeders’ Cup has been a significant handicap. Tipping the scales in the opposite direction doesn’t even the field; it just changes the direction of the slant.

You want to even the playing field? Run the races over three surfaces: artificial, dirt, turf. Give dirt horses—the majority of horses racing in this country—the opportunity to run over their favored surface. Otherwise, it’s like making tennis players contest on clay in order to be considered #1.

As far as history…you’re kidding, right?

In a sport that has existed in this country for more than 350 years, that boasts a venue that has existed since 1864, and that runs races that were first contested more than 100 years ago…how do you make a claim that an event that’s been extant only since 1984 is “historical”?

ESPN and the Breeders’ Cup are not, I recognize, the same entity, but during yesterday’s broadcast, it wasn’t always easy to tell the difference. As the afternoon progressed towards the main event, the ESPN commentators more than once invoked the historic nature of the race. We were told that the “history-rich Ladies’ Classic” was coming up, and that “11 Ladies’ Classic participants” were in the Hall of Fame.

To which I respond, as I did yesterday on Twitter: if you love the history of the race
so much, why did you feel compelled to change its name?

As Kevin Martin of Colin’s Ghost and I questioned the name change, a Twitter entity named ESPN_Breeders (OK—maybe they are the same thing?) responded: “Do we change the Ogden Phipps back to the Hempstead too?”

Well, yeah, maybe you do, given that the Hempstead, named for a town on Long Island, honored where racing took place going back to the 17th century. But at least changing the name to the Ogden Phipps also honored a major New York racing influence—it was an exchange of one historical reference for another.

Changing the name of the Distaff to the Ladies’ Classic does not honor history; it eviscerates it, as was demonstrated when one of Friday’s television commentators somehow managed to say with a straight face that “11 Ladies Classic participants” are in the Hall of Fame.

Really? If I go to the Hall of Fame, will I find on Personal Ensign’s plaque, “Winner of the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic”? Will I learn that Bayakoa is the only repeat winner of the Ladies’ Classic? Perhaps the Racing Museum will construct new plaques, in a little bit of revisionist history, so that Hall of Fame members who won the Distaff will now be known to have won the Ladies’ Classic? If so, it will be following Wikipedia’s lead: type “list of Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners” into a search engine, and your first suggestion will be the Wikipedia page for “Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.”

The Breeders’ Cup can offer exciting races, terrific wagering opportunities, and a fan-friendly racing experience…as it did between 1984 and 2007, when the races took place on dirt, when all the races were on Saturday, and when the name of the premier filly and mare race reflected racing’s tradition and history.

I had hoped that perhaps this Friday Foolishness would come to an end after the Santa Anita Synthetic Experience…but given yesterday’s gains in handle and attendance, I am feeling sanguine about neither Fridays nor synthetics long disappearing from the Breeders’ Cup.

9 thoughts on “Breeders’ Cup Friday: good news, bad news

  1. And don't forget the strange camera angles that ESPN/BC put up. Maybe they wanted to attract a younger, attention-deficit audience with fast cuts, but there are a lot of racing fans who might just have wanted to see the pan shot, then let Jerry Bailey do his analysis with the fancy overhead views.Was the handle up by more than the addition of one more race (the Marathon) would account for? I haven't looked at the details yet.

  2. Never mind about the handle; Steve Crist has already done all the analysis here: increase was entirely due to rearranging the betting so the late Pick-4 and the Pick-6 ended with the Distaff rather than a local race. Betting on the individual filly and mare races was down slightly.

  3. Steve: Couldn't agree with you more about the disorienting camera angles. Teresa: Thanks for the shout out! Like you I was flabbergasted by the twitter response that referenced the Hempstead. That was pretty ignorant. The problem isn't necessarily changing the name of the race, its what they changed it to. Don't let marketing people make decisions about naming races! Anyway, I don't plan on shutting up anytime soon on this one.

  4. I had the same reaction to the "history- rich Ladies Classic." Unless my friend's toddler is considered historical, the discription doesn't exactly fit. I still refer to said race as the Distaff, because the "Ladies Classic" doesn't sound like an end of the year championship for the Distaff division. It sounds like a race for a buch of whiners that couldn't play in the "real" Classic, so a special race had to be set up for them, which we all know is not the case. Long live the Distaff. Still, I love Breeder's Cup day and will continue to take off work on Fridays in order to see it.

  5. The camera angles reminded me of the way that European races are shot, maybe in yet another effort to make the Europeans more comfortable. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing the international horses compete here, it makes everything much more exciting, but does this mean that next year we will be facing another name change?No more Breeder's Cup, we will instead be watching "America vs. Europe, Na, Na, Na-na-na, our horses are better than yours!!!"Wow, I am playing a huge cynic for someone who bounced around in front of the tv/computer yestday like a kid who'd eaten a bag of sugar! haha

  6. Amen, sister! However, in all fairness to ESPN2, isn’t dumbed-down, hyper-sensationalist, rhetorically-challenged commentary and news de rigueur in today’s society? In an age of anti-intellectualism, how dare we tetchy minority demand high standards of language! “Historical” is thrown around as carelessly as the word “heroes”—everyone is a hero for simply doing their job, not actually performing a truly heroic act. But, I digress…Where did broadcasters like the great Jim McKay go? Instead, we get Joe Tessitore who repeatedly called the Marathon winner “Man of Honour” which is perhaps a more appropriate name than the one he has, but it happened so often it got annoying. And then there was the “Cocoa Bitch” slip…maybe if they weren’t so in love with hearing themselves speak and actually take the time to think and say something of quality, they wouldn’t make so many slips. Enough with the asinine platitudes already!Ah, thanks for letting me vent! 🙂

  7. Thanks, Steve, for pointing out the handle details. Agreed about camera angles.Kevin: United we stand!Alykat: you capture my own bipolar experience: hate it all in theory, and still got terribly excited at any number of points watching on Friday and Saturday. Still think that I'd have gotten just as excited if all the races were on Saturday. =)

  8. OK, I'm obviously reading your blog entries backwards, but I like the idea of having races on all three surfaces so the entrants can be on their preferred surface. BUT what's up with the people who think the BC should be PERMANENTLY at Santa Anita??? Are they kidding me???

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s