Dan Liebman

Dan Liebman

Anne M. Eberhardt

In It To Win It

In his taped acceptance, John Nerud, one of the legendary figures in the Thoroughbred industry, said he was proud to be one of the “founding fathers” of the Breeders’ Cup. “It was not an easy sell.”

Nerud was recognized for much more than his efforts to get the Breeders’ Cup going in the early and mid-1980s. After all, he trained the great Dr. Fager and gave the breed such names as Fappiano and Cozzene.

But Nerud, and many others, must be quite proud of what the Breeders’ Cup has accomplished since it was first run at Hollywood Park in 1984. On the night of the 36th Eclipse Awards Jan. 22 in Beverly Hills, Calif., every equine flat winner had one thing in common.

Wait a While, Miesque’s Approval, Thor’s Echo, Fleet Indian, Invasor, Street Sense, Dreaming of Anna, Bernardini, and Ouija Board all raced on Breeders’ Cup World Championships day.

They didn’t all win, of course, but the voters sent a message that it is important to be in the starting gate on racing’s biggest day.

Take nothing away from Miesque’s Approval, who was a deserving winner as champion turf male. But in selecting the son of Miesque’s Son, the voters from Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers Association, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association clearly stated how much his win in the NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) meant. It was his only grade I win of the year, compared to three for English Channel and two for The Tin Man.

“If you want a championship, you need to be there,” a beaming Pam Blatz-Murph, senior vice president of Breeders’ Cup operations, said following the awards dinner.

This year, being there means not just for eight championship races on Saturday, Oct. 27, but following a recent announcement, being there means for three additional races on Friday, Oct. 26, as well. The Breeders’ Cup has added three new races, and the card now covers two days at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

New for this year is a filly sprint, dirt mile, and juvenile turf race, each with a purse of $1 million. And Bill Farish, chairman of the Breeders’ Cup board, hinted to those in attendance at the Eclipse Awards that the organization might not be done yet.

“When we started in 1984 with a mile on grass, there weren’t many of those races back then,” Blatz-Murph said. “These new races will grow into themselves over time.”

There are those who believe the number of Eclipse Awards should also grow, and with the addition of new Breeders’ Cup races, the time may be right for that action as well. A championship category for filly sprinter and juveniles on turf would only encourage owners to point horses in different directions.

Of course, what would happen should a horse win a grade I race at Keeneland, another at Santa Anita, and yet a third at Hollywood Park, all on synthetic surfaces? Would the voters consider that form comparable to dirt or turf form?

On the same day as the Eclipse Awards, Grey Goose Vodka announced it would begin sponsoring the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), and also would no longer be the official “vodka” of the event but the official “spirit” of the Breeders’ Cup and NTRA.

Grey Goose, a sponsor of the Eclipse Awards, will continue to sponsor the Breeders’ Cup VIP party and its name will be on the event tickets.

Many have criticized Breeders’ Cup for not attracting sponsors outside the fraternity of racing. Grey Goose is a shining example of a company that was attracted, clearly likes what it has received, and is expanding its sponsorship.

Nearly 25 years ago, Nerud was appointed chairman of the marketing committee for Breeders’ Cup. Today, the fruits of his labor, and the vision of such men as John Gaines, are paying off for an entire industry.

(Dan Liebman is Executive Editor of The Blood-Horse)