The biggest change for this year's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships is that the order of the races will be different from past years.
In an attempt to maximize handle, the order of the races will be revealed Wednesday, Oct. 19 in conjunction with the announcement of the pre-entries for the eight grade I races to be run at Belmont Park 10 days later.
A different order for the races "is something that has been in the back of my mind for a couple of years," Ken Kirchner, Breeders' Cup vice president of product development, said. "Occasionally we will get a couple of short fields and as you analyze the handle, you notice where a heavy favorite or short field did some damage to the progression of handle through the day."
The name of the game is "churn," that is getting bettors to put their winnings back through the window. Starting the day with a short field or heavy favorite increases the odds of having greater churn.
For the first three years, the Juvenile was run first; then the Sprint led off the card from 1987-1994. The Juvenile Fillies began the day for three years, the Juvenile in 1998, and then the Distaff was moved to the first race in 1999.
The year after the Distaff was moved to the first race, Spain won and paid $113.80. The following year, Unbridled Elaine won and returned $26.60. Then in 2003, Adoration paid $83.40. The Distaff, which had historically been the most formful race, suddenly was full of longshot winners.
Then, last year, though the favorite won the Distaff (Ashado), the day had two short fields back-to-back. The Juvenile, the sixth of the Breeders' Cup races, had eight runners and was followed by the Turf with another field of eight. The Breeders' Cup can handle 14-horse fields.
Fuller fields translate to more betting opportunities and greater handle.
"The whole thing is about the churn of money - maximizing the betting value of the day," Kirchner said. "Last year, with the Juvenile and Turf each having eight horses, there was a significant decline in handle. That is what pushed over the edge to make this call."
The only thing for sure is that the $4 million Classic will be the last Breeders' Cup race. And, it is highly unlikely the three turf races would be run back-to-back, although Kirchner thinks an all turf Pick Three would be enticing to bettors.
" Belmont is a little different because it has two turf courses but at other places, back-to-back turf races may not be ideal," he said.
Kirchner said after pre-entries are made today (Oct. 17), the Racing Directors/Secretaries Panel will meet Tuesday morning to rank the entrants and preference lists. Then a meeting will be held later Tuesday to set the order of races. At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the entries and race order will be announced.Kirchner will participate in a Blood-Horse online chat Thursday, Oct. 20, from noon-1 p.m. (Eastern) to discuss the race order and any other questions.