To Pay, or Not to Pay: Breeders' Cup Supplemental Fees Present Shakespearian Moments

Since the inception of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships in 1984, some horse owners have long debated whether to suffer the slings and arrows of high entry fees for non-nominated horses and seek out the competition--their chance at glory on racing's crowning day.

Scores have probably, wisely opted out. Indeed, owners who put up the supplemental fee for failing to nominate their horse as a foal ($500) to the Breeders' Cup Fund, European Breeders' Fund or the BCF/ECL Common Fund--a figure equal to 9% of the guaranteed purse, 20% if their sire was not also nominated--have in most cases come up short, faltering to mid-pack finishes, or in many cases, finishing last.

Yet, in the last two decades, there exists several tales of great success in risking a great sum for the chance to dream. If 2005 presents horse owners a similar dilemma then perhaps they looked to history to find instances where equine royalty justified the decision to plunk down the coin of the realm.

"It's truly a scary process, and we struggled with it," said Michael Cooper, managing owner of two-time Classic winner Tiznow , who supplemented his lightly raced 3-year-old for his first win in 2000. "I was a 35% owner and I remember writing a check for $137,000 (of the total $360,000) and thinking, 'this is a hell of a lot of money,'-- it was the cost of my kid's college education at the time.

"But this wasn't a decision I made flippantly," said Cooper, whose son of Cee's Tizzy was an up-and-coming colt who had broken his maiden in May of that year. Tiznow wouldn't face a stiff test until a thriller against Captain Steve in that year's Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) as a prep for the Classic at Churchill Downs. "I went to the track two or three times and talked to the trainer, the vet, the jockey and said 'what do you guys think?' That's a lot of money to a guy like me, and I didn't want to look like a fool either. In the end I decided I owed it to the horse."

Whether or not a future Tiznow lurks behind the curtains, the Oct. 29 stage at Belmont Park will nevertheless showcase the finest assemblage of horseflesh anywhere in one place this year. Of the 117 pre-entries, 14 will have to be supplemented, some likely to be favored when they head to the post: Lost in the Fog (TVG Sprint); Leroixdesanimaux (NetJets Mile); and Ouija Board (Emirates Airlines Filly and Mare Turf) are notable among the list.

Also in 2005, the owner of New Zealand-bred Starcraft, pre-entered in both the Classic and the Mile, paid a 20% supplement of the higher purse, in this instance, the $4 million Classic. If Starcraft is to recoup the $800,000 fee, he'll need to run at least second in the Classic. If he runs in the Classic, the purse for the race would be approximately $4.7 million.

If he runs in the $1.5 million Mile, his total entry fee will be $300,000 ($100,000 pre-entry; $200,000 entry). Again, he'll have to run at least second to earn the entry fee back.The Mile has been designated as Starcraft's first race of preference. If he goes in the Mile, the total purse would be approximately $1.7 million.

Turf stars Alinghi and Singhalese are runners of note who chose not to supplement this year.

"The rules for supplementing have certainly evolved," said Pam Blatz-Murff, the Breeders' Cup's senior vice president of operations. "In the past, a horse had to be supplemented every time he ran and the money wasn't added to the purse, it just reverted to the Breeders' Cup Fund and was used in the next year's stakes races."

Blatz-Murff cited both Best Pal and Bertrando as horses whose owners were the most generous to the fund. Both were supplemented in three years--once as juveniles, and twice each for the Classic--with the owners paying the full fee all three times (Bertrando finished second in the 1991 Juvenile to Arazi and in the 1993 Classic to $133.60 longshot Arcangues).

"But in 1997 we established a credit system," said Blatz-Murff. "Now, money taken in from an owner above the standard pre-entry fee (1% of the purse, due 12 days before the race) is added to the purses for that year, and also, the horse is eligible to compete the next year."

With their supplemental fees now added into the purses and credited toward future running, owners are less likely to balk at laying out the money up front.

Blatz-Murff used Ouija Board and Megahertz as examples of those who will receive credits this year from their supplements in the 2004 Filly & Mare Turf. Ouija Board won last year's running and Megahertz finished 11th.

"For what it's worth, I'm a firm believer that the fee should be as much as it is," said Cooper. "The Breeders' Cup is based on people putting up that $500 when the horse is barely a weanling--and the stallion owners putting up the big money every year--and there's no reason in the world that people who skip making those costly payments should get a free ride, contrary to the opinions of some.

"When that form came to my desk and I didn't pay the $500--that's what I got," Cooper said.

It wasn't long at all before the first supplemented winner arrived on the scene. In the inaugural running in 1984, 31-1 longshot Wild Again supplemented to the Classic for a fee of $360,000 (12% of the $3-million purse) and stunned favored Slew o' Gold and Preakness (gr. I) winner Gate Dancer in a thrilling finish. His winner's share of $1.35 million increased his earnings from $738,109 to $2,088,109 for owner Black Chip Stable and trainer Timphony Vincent.

It would be 13 years until another supplemental entry would win the card's signature race, when 1996 champion 3-year-old Skip Away, an April foal of 1993, burst into Hollywood Park and absconded with the 1997 statue and $2,288,000 for owner Carolyn Hine and her husband, late trainer Sonny Hine.

"I appreciated and respected Sonny's judgment first and foremost," said Carolyn of the decision-making process. "He never played games and he knew what we had with this horse. He told me--and I'll never forget the hotel where we were staying--and he said, 'I want to supplement Skippy to the Breeders' Cup.' I remember writing the first check for $160,000 and then the second for $320,000 I think it was," Hine said.

"We had a joint checking account so he could have just as easily written the check himself but he wanted me to have the chance. That was a lot of money for people like us, we never saw that kind of money, and in the end Skippy gave us our financial cushion later in life and allowed me to experience the dream."

Rules state the supplementary fee--one-third of which is nonrefundable and due 12 days prior to the race, with the remaining two-thirds due to pass the entry box--are refundable only in the event of sickness or disability certified by the track or state veterinarian, or if the horse is prevented from starting by racing officials.

One additional overlooked rule, a stallion's initial foal nomination lasts as long as they're on the racetrack, after that, the stallion's owner faces an annual fee equal to their stud fee to nominate. A.P. Indy, for example, has to be supplemented each year to the Breeders' Cup for his foals to be eligible, and Lane's End Farm has to write a check for $300,000 for him, and for their two-dozen other stallions according to their fees.

So it's pay to play in this high-stakes poker, and not for the feint hearted. The dream of seeing your horse the Breeders' Cup is an expensive proposition, but one that could bring the excitement of a lifetime.

And just as Prince Hamlet decided to stay around long enough to avenge the King's death--killed not by his own hand but that of a rival--many owners decide, as did literature's most contemplative self-inquisitor, "the play's the thing."

*Full List of 2005 Supplements and other notable supplements from years past:

Starcraft (NZ), (20%), Classic and Mile
Megahertz (GB), (9%), Filly and Mare Turf
Ouija Board (GB), (9%), Filly and Mare Turf
Flip Flop (9%), Filly and Mare Turf
Lost in the Fog (9%), Sprint
Azamour (IRE) (9%), Turf
Motivator (GB), (9%), Turf
Shirocco (GER), (9%), Turf
Jealous Profit, (9%), Juvenile
Wild Fit, (9%), Juvenile Fillies
Gorella (FR), (9%), Mile
Host (CHI), (20%), Mile
Leroidesanimaux (BRZ), (9%), Mile
Majors Cast (IRE), (9%), Mile

Bayakoa--Mr. and Mrs. Frank Whitham's daughter of Consultant's Bid supplemented in the 1989 and 1990 Distaffs off wins in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland, winning both times, the second against Go For Wand who broke down in their stretch duel. Ron McAnally trained Bayakoa and Laffit Pincay was up for both.

Paseana--Sidney Craig's Argentine-bred supplemented in the 1992 and 1993 Distaffs for trainer Ron McAnally, finishing first and second (behind Hollywood Wildcat) respectively under Chris McCarron.

Val Royal--David Milch's 5-year-old son of Royal Academy wins the 2001 Mile from way back with an eight-wide charge on the turn for home to finish in record-setting time. It was Milch's second Breeders' Cup, scoring as a co-owner in 1992 with Juvenile winner Gilded Time.

Landseer--The 2002 Mile saw Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier's gallant Landseer break down after threatening in the stretch. Trainer Aidan O'Brien supplemented Landseer in for 9% of the $1-million prize

Gentleman--R.D. Hubbard's paid $800,000 for his Argentine-bred Gentlemen in the 1998 Classic won by Awesome again, only to see him eased in the stretch. Silver Charm and Skip Away were other notable supplements that year, but the race was won by Awesome Again .

Starine wins the 2002 Filly and Mare Turf for owner/trainer Bobby Frankel and John Velazquez after running 10th for the connections in 2001.

Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier's Irish-bred High Chapparal, trained by O'Brien, wins the 2002 and 2003 Turf, the latter in a dead-heat with Johar.

Reraise wins the Sprint in 1999; Tasso wins in the Juvenile in 1985; and Pebbles wins the Turf in 1985.