Distance Changes of Juvenile Races Have Pros and Cons

There has been much discussion regarding the decision to change the 2002 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Filly distance to 1 1/8 miles instead of one mile, which was the original distance of the two juvenile races, first run at Hollywood Park. After running the races at a mile the first two years, it was changed to 1 1/16 miles in 1986, then back to a mile in '87, when the Breeders' Cup returned to Hollywood Park. Since then, it has been run at 1 1/16 miles.

Because of the configuration of the Arlington track, which would place the 1 1/16-mile start too close to the clubhouse turn, this year's two juvenile races had to be changed. The question was whether it should be shortened to a mile or lengthened to 1 1/8 miles, a distance unfamiliar to 2-year-olds in this country, with the exception of the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in late November.

The Breeders' Cup board of directors formed a committee, to whom they presented the facts for their recommendation. The committee consisted of G. Watts Humphrey, Dell Hancock, John Phillips, the late Howard Battle, Tom Robbins, Geoffrey Gibbs, Arlington vice-president of racing Frank Gabriel, and Breeders' Cup senior vice president Pam Blatz-Murff.

"When the question originally came up what would be the ideal distance for the juvenile races, it was decided on 1 1/16 miles," Blatz-Murff said of the first running in 1984. But when it was decided to extend the finish line at Hollywood Park, we couldn't run it at that distance and had to change it to a mile. So, a mile was not the original distance we wanted.

"This year, most of the trainers we surveyed felt that being the major preps leading up to the juvenile races, like the Champagne, Norfolk, and Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, are run at 1 1/16 miles, the Breeders' Cup races shouldn't be shorter than the preps. A mile is a long sprint, basically, and they didn't want to drop back in distance. We polled 20 trainers in the East, Midwest, and West, and most indicated they wanted the 1 1/8 miles, including Bob Baffert. With the exception of a few of them, they felt a mile would be more of a speed race, and the 1 1/8 miles would be better for developing a true champion. Some of those we talked to were Dick Mandella, Shug McGaughey, Bobby Frankel, D. Wayne Lukas, and Neil Drysdale.

"A mile and an eighth is a new experience for these horses and we realize that. But it's a helluva lot safer than starting at 1 1/16 with that short run," Blatz-Murff continued. "They'd only have 200 feet to settle themselves into the turn. We're not looking for any track records; we're looking for a nice, safe start and to get them all home where they can run again. How do you know this isn't what breaks the Breeders' Cup Juvenile jinx (of never having a winner go on to win Kentucky Derby)?"

McGaughey, who will saddle the likely favorite for the Juvenile Fillies in Storm Flag Flying, said he felt 1 1/8 miles is a grueling distance for 2-year-olds this time of year, but understands the Breeders' Cup's decision. "The Breeders' Cup threw it out there to see what people think," he said. "Running out of a chute at a mile takes the fan's perspective away. Even though it's a grueling distance, if we have to go that far I'm not going to worry about it. I think in all probability it's good for racing."

John Kimmel said he believes a mile is a classic distance for 2-year-olds. "We never used to have a mile and an eighth race until the Remsen." He said. "With all these two-turn races now, I think it's an awful lot. But there are two sides to the coin. Maybe now, trainers are going to have to back off their horses after the Breeders' Cup and give them three to three and a half months off before starting back on the Triple Crown trail."