A recent article in Daily Racing Form about the Breeders' Cup Stakes program and a mini-dispute with some racetracks over simulcast revenues from those races raised several questions in my mind, not the least of which is: What exactly is the Breeders' Cup Stakes program?
Pam Blatz-Murff, senior vice president of Breeders' Cup operations, helped straighten out a confused mind around which rattles Breeders' Cup Premium Awards, Premium Stakes, Budweiser Breeders' Cup Stakes, Special Stakes, National Stakes, and now just plain Breeders' Cup Stakes--all in less than 20 years.
Breeders' Cup Stakes, not to be confused with the $13-million Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, are races that receive purse funding from the Breeders' Cup in increments ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. Those purse enhancements are matched by racetracks on a sliding scale ratio of between 1-to-1 and 4-to-1. Races in the program last year ranged from the Margarita Breeders' Cup Handicap, a modest event at Retama Park in Texas offering a total purse of $50,000 ($25,000 from the Breeders' Cup), to the $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita in Southern California. That race, a key prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), got $100,000 in Breeders' Cup funds.
The total earmarked for this year's Breeders' Cup Stakes program is about $6.2 million. That's a lot of money to spread around, though not nearly as much as the $10 million earmarked for the Breeders' Cup Premium Awards program in 1984, its inaugural year. Back then more than 400 stakes received money from the Breeders' Cup.
The awards were then disbursed using a formula that looked at the amount of unrestricted stakes purses offered at each track in North America. Today, Blatz-Murff said, the Breeders' Cup Stakes money is allocated according to where Breeders' Cup-nominated horses are running and winning stakes races. For example, she said, a track's stakes program must have had at least 20 Breeders' Cup-nominated horses win or place for that track to be eligible for purse money. "We feel it is important to put money for our nominated horses at places where they compete," said Blatz-Murff.
The new formula does not mean the money goes to a state whose breeding industry spends the most to nominate their stallions and foals to the program. In California, for example, the Breeders' Cup offered more than $1.25 million in stakes purses last year. Nominations from California stallions and foals was less than $1 million last year.
The purpose of the program--whether it's the Premium, Special, or current Breeders' Cup Stakes--is to reward nominators and owners of Breeders' Cup-eligible runners, especially those horses that may never race for purses of a million dollars or more. The hope is that the program will serve as an incentive to continue to nominate while raising awareness for the Breeders' Cup.
While the rewards are designed to benefit owners and breeders, Breeders' Cup Stakes also help racetracks improve the quality of their stakes schedules. A number of races were inaugurated during Budweiser's sponsorship of the Special Stakes program, and those races, still receiving Breeders' Cup support, have grown to become important fixtures on a racetrack's calendar.
The aforementioned mini-dispute involves simulcasting of Breeders' Cup Stakes. Breeders' Cup officials, saying the additional purse money makes the races more attractive, are trying to retrieve 1% of the simulcast handle on those stakes. Some track executives who have happily accepted purse enhancements for their races are now balking at paying the fee.
The truth is the tracks have enjoyed a free ride. Now it's time to pay.