The decision-makers at the Breeders' Cup have been making some smart moves lately; all of them steps that were needed to improve the event. They've lowered the minimum price on some of the bets, have taken steps to make the "win and you're in" races more meaningful and hired a respected consulting group to look into how they can make the Breeders' Cup brand grow both here and abroad.
They've done a lot of good things, but they need to do more. Hire me as the Breeders' Cup Czar and here's a list of things I would do:
Get rid of the Breeders' Cup Marathon and get rid of it now
With the breeding industry struggling, the Breeders' Cup is almost certain to have to cut a few races, or reduce some purses in the near future. They can start by eliminating what is far and away the worst race on the Breeders' Cup menu, the $500,000 Marathon. It attracts nothing but horses that aren't good enough to cut it in "real" races. The Breeders' Cup is supposed to be all about excellence. There's nothing excellent about this race.
Create a Pick Six-style bet with a 10-cent betting unit
The U.S. racing industry needs to start paying attention to what is happening in little Sweden, where a bet called the V-75 handles in excess of $11 million every Saturday. The V-75 is essentially a Pick Seven and the reason it is so wildly successful is because it can be played for a mere dime. The Breeders' Cup Pick Six has lost a lot of steam over the years and the reason is that it's too expensive to play and way too hard to hit. Except for the few out there who can afford to invest $10,000 or more in the bet, most people have given up on playing it. The 10-cent unit would solve all the problems and rejuvenate the wager. Make it cover just the Breeders' Cup races, or the entire Friday and Saturday cards. Bettors would love this.
Let "Win & You're In" winners pick their post positions in the Breeders' Cup
This one is a no-brainer. The Breeders' Cup Challenge concept is still lacking because anyone winning one of these races would have made it into the Breeders' Cup anyway. Most races aren't oversubscribed and, even if they were, a winner of a major prep would never be among those excluded. The way to make the Challenge races mean something is to let the winners pick their posts. After the Challenge winners pick their posts, the remaining posts would be decided on a draw among non-Challenge winners. It's exactly what harness racing has done with most elimination races for major events, and it's made those elimination races a lot more exciting and meaningful.
Go back to the mid-level tracks
The best Breeders' Cups are not necessarily the ones held at Santa Anita, Belmont and Churchill, the only three tracks Breeders' Cup executives seem to care about any more. They like those places because they can accommodate a big crowd, which means big business on track in terms of handle. But the second-tier tracks like Monmouth, Lone Star, Arlington and Woodbine bring something to the table the "Big Three" can't. It's enthusiasm. People in the smaller markets and at the smaller tracks get charged up by the Breeders' Cup and treat it like it should be treated, as a Super Bowl of racing. At Churchill, it will always be second to the Derby. At Belmont, it always gets lost amid the glut of professional sporting events taking place the same day, and the fans and the media are used to seeing star horses and jockeys. The same goes for Southern California. It's fine to run the Breeders' Cup at Churchill, Santa Anita and Belmont. Just don't forget about the other guys.
OK, this one may be a stretch, running the Breeders' Cup at a quarter horse track run by a guy (John Brunetti) who can be difficult to work with. But Brunetti has done miracles in bringing Hialeah back to life and his track remains one of the most beautiful racing facilities in the world. Now that Gulfstream Park has been dramatically downsized, you can' have a Breeders' Cup there, which means Hialeah is the only possibility in Florida, a place that should have the Breeders' Cup. If someone can figure out a way to make it work, a Breeders' Cup at Hialeah would be sensational.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.