Cup Looks Ahead: Turf Sprint and Marathons?

Though still in the midst of this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Monmouth Park, officials are looking ahead to next year’s event, which could include some new races.

Under consideration are a $1-million sprint on the turf, and mini-marathon races on the dirt and grass. The proposed races are just one item on the agenda for the December meeting of the Breeders’ Cup board of directors.

This year, Breeders’ Cup added a second day of racing and three new Championships events--the Filly & Mare Sprint, Juvenile Turf, and the Dirt Mile. But plans call for additional races; a turf sprint appears to be leading the pack for 2008, when the World Championships will be held at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park in California.

“We’ve had lengthy discussions with the board about a $1-million turf sprint,” Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli said. “We won’t make a decision until we see how the first Friday goes, but it’s under serious consideration.”

The first Friday, Oct. 26, was characterized as a success. Despite daylong rain and “off” racing surfaces, Monmouth attracted more than 27,000 patrons who bet more than $5 million on track. Total handle topped $30 million, a figure that pleased Breeders’ Cup officials.

Meanwhile, a group of racing secretaries and racing officials are lobbying for new races that could be 1 1/2 miles or longer. The idea is to offer events that may keep horses in training and attempt to bring back longer-distance races that once weren’t uncommon.

There are tracks in the United States that card races from 1 1/2 miles to two miles, but usually the races carry starter allowance conditions. There are a handful of stakes, such as the 1 5/8-mile Gallant Fox at Aqueduct in December.

“We have been approached by a group of racing secretaries about carding long races on the dirt and turf,” Avioli said. “They are interested in carding a pattern of races in that division. We applaud that goal.”

Monmouth general manager Bob Kulina said the distance races have been discussed for some time. Monmouth, he said, toyed with the idea of having a $200,000 stakes at 1 1/2 miles on this year’s Breeders’ Cup program.

“I think we need to create a reason for the Belmont (Stakes) winner to race as a 4-year-old,” Kulina said. “I know there is a feeling in California among racing people (for distance races), and I do think (synthetic surfaces) are calling for a fitter horse.”

Kulina said marathons have disappeared from many condition books around the country because the races don’t fill. He said the betting public wants full fields, and that has to be a consideration.

Clearly, it will take a lot of work--on the racing and breeding sides--to bring back the days of the prestigious two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup won by champions such as Kelso.

“It almost has to be a commitment of the whole industry,” Kulina said. “You’re going to have to develop it over time. Within the Mid-Atlantic region, we could set up a series to try to run those races. I think you have to start regionally to build demand for horses, and we have to figure out a way to make the events competitive.”

Avioli said the marathon races could carry a Championships designation or be undercard stakes worth $250,000-$500,000, similar to three new races held Oct. 26--the Epitome Breeders’ Cup Stakes, the Favorite Trick Breeders’ Cup Stakes, and the Inside Information Breeders’ Cup Stakes.

Breeders’ Cup is toying with many ideas, among them carding four Championships races on the Friday program or moving one of the traditional eight Saturday Championships races to Friday to bolster that program. There has even been talk of eventually having 16 Championships races, eight Friday and eight Saturday.

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