Jess Jackson seemed to dismiss a repeat attempt by Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic as if he was flicking a piece of lint off the lapel of his tweed jacket.
“Been there, done that,” Jackson said to reporters the other day in a teleconference to announce future plans for the reigning Horse of the Year.
Instead, Jackson seems bent on some exotic mission that he hopes will prove more satisfying, like the Hong Kong Cup or Japan Cup in Asia.
So that’s how far the Breeders’ Cup Classic has fallen. The majority owner of the best horse America has seen, perhaps since Cigar more than a decade ago, is seeking new worlds to conquer rather than go for a repeat in the richest and what should be the most important race run on American soil – the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Did I say run on American “soil”? Right now, no one is sure exactly what the Classic will be run on when the Breeders’ Cup comes to Santa Anita Park for its two-day race meeting on Oct. 24-25. As I write this, 80 days before the self-proclaimed “world championships,” an Australian company is sifting a variety of materials onto the oval that that has hosted some of the greatest races this sport has seen. The company, Pro-Ride, has some experience in installing and maintaining training tracks and materials for lunging rings et al, but Santa Anita will be the first major meeting that uses Pro-Ride for racing.
Instead of world championships, perhaps this year’s Breeders’ Cup (and next year’s since Breeders’ Cup management and its board decided to go back-to-back at Santa Anita in 2009) should be called the grand experiment. Jackson (and who can really blame him?) doesn’t feel he should use Curlin as a guinea pig on such a surface.
Once Breeders’ Cup (and the industry) determines whether or not these man-made tracks are better for the horses and for the sport, there will remain the serious question of how to keep a Breeders’ Cup champion like Curlin interested in going for a repeat.
Tiznow is the only horse to have won the Classic twice (2000 and ’01), and only a handful have even tried it. For many winners, it’s been the final stop on the road to the breeding shed. Jess Jackson decided to keep Curlin in training for another year, and you can select from one of the following reasons: a) he’s a sportsman who doesn’t need the money; b) there were legal entanglements involving his ownership that might have made a stud deal difficult; c) all of the above.
Say, for example, trainer Rick Dutrow is able to hold Big Brown together through the end of the year and win the Classic with the same verve with which the colt won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He’ll go from there to Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky to get ready for the 2009 breeding season. The economic reality is that a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner can earn more money by breeding than he can by racing.
Does it have to be that way?
Has Breeders’ Cup looked into the possibility of offering a bonus for a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner that repeats the following year? Has it considered enhancing the Classic purse for winners of Triple Crown races to keep them in training for another year? Even if Big Brown lost this year’s Breeders’ Cup, dangling an extra few million dollars in his direction for the 2009 Classic might be enough of an incentive to keep him in training. Well, perhaps not Big Brown, but you get the idea.
The international competition to attract the world’s best horses is getting tougher. Many of these international events pay all shipping fees for horses and expenses for their connections, something the Breeders’ Cup has not done. Organizations like the Japan Racing Association have included bonuses in the already-rich purses for their international races to attract good horses.