Breeders' Cup Gets Tough on Grade I Handicaps

The Breeders' Cup board of directors has approved a committee recommendation that all grade I stakes that receive Breeders' Cup purse supplements be run under weight-for-age conditions effective July 1.

The board, which met Jan. 9, also approved a contract with the Thoroughbred Championships Tour for a series launch in 2006, and approved Breeders' Cup as a "founding contributor" of Friends of New York Racing, which seeks to rework the economic model for the pari-mutuel industry in New York.

There has been some talk in the industry about doing away with handicap races. The American Graded Stakes Committee, which assigns grades to races each year, hasn't made a policy decision in that regard.

The Breeders' Cup Racing and Nominations Committee made the recommendation to tie funding to a change in race conditions. For 2005, there are only six grade I events that receive Breeders' Cup funds. One of them, the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap, will be run in March and therefore doesn't qualify under the new rule for this year. It must comply for 2006 to receive the funds.

Four California races will have to meet the criteria: the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap at Del Mar, the Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita Park, and the Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap and Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park.

The status of the Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap during the fall meet at Belmont Park remains up in the air. The New York Racing Association stakes schedule for 2005 was approved late last year, so the conditions already are out.

"We plan to work with New York to see what we can do with that particular race," said Pam Blatz-Murff, senior vice president of Breeders' Cup operations. "That race might fall into a 2006 change."

The Breeders' Cup Stakes program is in the process of being hammered out. Blatz-Murff said the new rule doesn't affect grade II events supported by Breeders' Cup funds.

"We believe that there should be a level playing field in all grade I Breeders' Cup Stakes program races, and the fairest way to do this is to contest those races under weight-for-age conditions," Blatz-Murff said.

The Breeders' Cup board of directors also approved the combined National Thoroughbred Racing Association/Breeders' Cup budget for 2005. The NTRA board ratified the spending plan in December.