When word got out last week that Breeders' Cup officials were holding a reception in Los Angeles this Wednesday to confirm Santa Anita Park as host of the 2012 Breeders' Cup, there was predictable disappointment and anger coming from some friends of New York racing, who thought it was about time for the championships to return to Belmont Park. The last time the Cup was held in New York was 2005. That's a long time between drinks for the New York Racing Association, which many people believe puts on the best year-round racing show in North America.
Angry comments on Internet forums and in the racing media have pointed the finger at the Breeders' Cup board of directors for having an “anti-New York bias.” What other possible reason could there be for Cup officials to avoid holding racing's biggest event in the Big Apple?
That's a good question, and perhaps it's one executives at the NYRA should be asking themselves.
It's not as if the Breeders' Cup is made up of a bunch of Left Coasters. In fact, not one of the 13 members of the board is based in California. I'm not sure that any of them even races there on a semi-regular basis. Breeders' Cup chairman Tom Ludt of Vinery oversees breeding farms in Kentucky, New York, and Florida, and most, if not all, of the stable's horses race east of the Mississippi. Helen Alexander, Antony Beck, Bill Farish, and Bret Jones represent Kentucky farms and do all their racing in the East Coast. Robert Manfuso is from Maryland, Roy Jackson is from Pennsylvania, Satish Sanan is a Floridian with a Kentucky Farm. Clem Murphy is from Ireland's Coolmore Stud, whose American division is in Kentucky. Oliver Tait is with Darley, an international operation with its American farm in Kentucky. David Willmot is based in Toronto. Jerry Crawford is from Iowa. And Richard Santulli is based in New Jersey, and last time I checked, he was a member of the board of trustees of the New York Racing Association.
So much for a West Coast bias.
New Yorkers can blame Greg Avioli, the former Breeders' Cup president who helped put together Santa Anita's bid to host the 2012 championships. It's true Avioli knows what floats the Breeders' Cup's boat. But I hardly think that is a state secret.
I think the real problem may be that the New York Racing Association thinks that putting on a great race meeting at Saratoga, or being the host of an annual Triple Crown race is enough to win what is essentially a bidding process. It is about money. But it's also about promotion and hospitality, and in those areas, apparently, it isn't that difficult to outflank NYRA.
In some corners there are cries that it is somehow New York's “turn” to get the Breeders' Cup, that six years without it is long enough. If that were the case, Cup officials could set up a simple rotation and have absolutely no leverage to get the best deal they can.
That's not the way it should work. The Breeders' Cup should go to the track that wants it the most, that is willing to do whatever is necessary to put on the best show possible.
There have been whispers that NYRA will go into competition with the Breeders' Cup by offering their own major racing festival in late October or early November, to gain a measure of revenge for being spurned yet again. That, of course, would be childish and petty and completely counterproductive. I assume NYRA's board of trustees would nip that foolish talk in the bud before it gets anywhere.
Instead, the trustees should be asking NYRA management what they can do to help put forth the best competitive bid possible, so that the 2013 Cup will return to New York. It should be there. But only if it deserves to be.
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