Raise your hand if you are excited for this year's Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. If your hand's not up, it should be. This is easily one of the best races of this year's event, and depending on how it turns out, it could be the best race of them all.
The field that has been assembled is one full of champions, intrigue and at least one winning streak guaranteed to come to an end.
Then you have Royal Delta, who romped home in the Ladies' Classic last year before selling for an eye-popping $8.5 million at the Keeneland November sale. Her new owner, Ben Leon, is a sporting man and left his newly purchased Eclipse Award winner in training. Royal Delta looks to defend her title this year and appeared every inch a champion while winning the Grade 1 Beldame by 9½ lengths over multiple Grade 1 winner and millionaire It's Tricky.
If that isn't enough for you, there is Love and Pride, who comes into the race with back-to-back Grade 1 wins to her credit, including the Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita. Her other Grade 1 triumph, the Personal Ensign, came when she defeated Royal Delta by a half-length.
That's not to mention Grade 1 winner Grace Hall, who ran second to My Miss Aurelia in last year's Juvenile Fillies, fellow Grade 1 winners Questing and Include Me Out, and graded stakes winner Class Included.
In short, this race is stacked and countless storylines will come out of it. There is just one problem. Depending on where you live, and if you have a full-time job, you may not get to see it.
The race is slated to go off at 4:30 p.m. PT Friday. Chances are you might be at work, trying to leave work or trying to eat dinner and/or wrangle your family when this race takes place. The East Coast viewers will see the race at a decent time, if they have nothing better to do on a Friday night, except so many people are dealing with the aftermath of Sandy, I doubt horse racing is going to make it on many schedules.
I have to admit that when the Breeders' Cup announced its "Ladies Day" concept, I was not a fan. I actually enjoyed the first two-day Breeders' Cup event in 2007 when the less important races were run Friday and the big guns came out on Saturday. It was a good way to build excitement. Then came 2008, when all of the filly and mare races were put on Friday.
I didn't like it then, and I don't like it now. If racing is to build its fan base, the best races have to be at a time when people might actually get to see them. The end of a work day does not seem to be that time.
The Breeders' Cup has been lucky thus far. Zenyatta won the 2008 Ladies' Classic (don't get me started on changing the name of the Distaff), and the power of her name would draw a crowd anytime, anywhere. Plus, Curlin ran his final race in the Classic, leading to plenty of interest in Saturday's card.
In 2009, Zenyatta took on the boys in the Classic and won, which was certainly the focus of the whole weekend. The mighty mare continued to carry the event in 2010 when she competed in the Classic again.
Meanwhile, Goldikova drew headlines by competing against the boys and beating them from 2008-2010. Last year, her attempt to win four straight Breeders' Cup Miles earned a lot of the attention. And eventual Horse of the Year Havre de Grace took on the boys in the Classic.
This year, though, the girls are sticking to their designated races, and the boys aren't all that exciting when it comes to the Classic division. I am not aiming to knock the horses entered to run in the Classic; I'm just admitting what everyone knows: There isn't a superstar running this year.
The good news is that several of the other races slated for Saturday are loaded. I cannot be the only one interested in the Mile. The bad news is that I am worried the race everyone remembers from the 2012 Breeders' Cup is going to happen when not many people can realistically be expected to watch it.
I have heard Breeders' Cup Ladies Day be compared to what Churchill Downs has successfully done with the Kentucky Oaks, but it is a flawed analogy. Many locals view Oaks Day as theirs and Derby Day as the day for everyone else. The Breeders' Cup doesn't have locals because, at least in theory, it moves around so people across the country can attend.
If I ran the world, I would move the Ladies' Classic, Filly and Mare Turf, and Juvenile Fillies back to Saturday where they belong.
My other issue with the concept of Ladies Day is the fact that the Breeders' Cup hasn't even stuck to it. The Juvenile Sprint and Marathon are now contested on the day that was supposed to be set aside for the girls, while the Filly and Mare Sprint is run on Saturday.
If I ran the world, I would move the Ladies' Classic, Filly and Mare Turf, and Juvenile Fillies back to Saturday where they belong, putting the Juvenile Turf, Filly and Mare Sprint, and Turf Sprint on Friday. It is rare people want to eat their entree before the appetizer.
At the very least, if there is room for the Filly and Mare Sprint on Saturday, surely there is room for the Ladies' Classic. There is no way to know from year to year what races are going to be the best, but historically, it is always in the mix.
In order to survive, and thrive, horse racing has to appeal to both gamblers and fans. Gamblers don't really care what order the races are in, as long as they are run. Although I understand the theory that having a big race on Friday will encourage fans to attend both days, the problem is assuming there are fans wanting to attend in the first place.
Horse racing needs to build up its fan base, and in order to draw people in, they have to see the sport's best. It is wonderful that the Classic will once again be on a network station this year, but it looks as if the race that could have drawn in the most people will have been settled the day before.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.