The Triple Crown used to be the most prestigious group of races the connections of a Thoroughbred race horse could ever dream of obtaining. In order to win you need not just speed, stamina, and talent but unbreakable will. It used to showcase the brilliance and dominance that one single thoroughbred could display over their peers or heart wrenching , nail biting stretch battles that hit even the most hardened veterans to the core.
The Breeders Cup series was the biggest hit when it was unveiled in 1984. It showcased America’s most dominating horses in each and every division on one day, making it one of racing most premier events. Who will forget the epic battles we saw the likes of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer? How about the courage of Tiznow, or the brilliance of Ghostzapper? These names only appear if you look at one race out of the original eight. If you look through the rest you will see the names of Lure, Goldikova, Ouija Board, Manila, Arazi, Kona Gold….the list goes on and on.
Up until recently, both these events featured not only the best, most talent horses in America, but they constantly reminded us of the strength, power and beauty of the breed and the sport itself. Nowadays both events seemed to have been cheapened and watered down. Two of the three jewels of the Triple Crown have lost most of their weight. The Kentucky Derby has always allowed a field of 20 starters, but up until the last decade or so did the fields start to really expand in size. No Triple Crown champion ever had to navigate a field of 20 horses and these were the sport’s Iron Horses. Why must the horses nowadays have to negotiate a field so large, that not even one Triple Crown champion had to contend with? The Belmont has become the Derby/Preakness winner’s worst enemy. It is often a race for longshots and fresh horses and rarely showcases the nation’s leading three year old.
What used to be an unforgettable annual event in the Breeders Cup is slowly yet surely becoming more and more watered down. The addition of the Juvenile Turf races, the Dirt Mile, and Filly and Mare Sprint were not bad additions at all, in fact they gave the divisions that are typically overlooked, a chance to shine. However races like the Turf Sprint, Marathon, and the newly added Juvenile Sprint seem to only cheapen the event. In my opinion those three races showcase the second stringer of the sport, who were not quite good enough to make it into the premier events like the Mile, Classic or Juvenile.
Racing needs to get back on its feet. Racing needs to start with a blank slate and look at what has done it good and what has watered it down and cheapened it over the year. Then, it needs to take what was good and find a way to combine its good qualities to maximize the potential of this sport. The Triple Crown is racing’s biggest influence in the mainstream media, but because things like the selection process and the 20 horse cavalry charge allowed in the gates, the first jewel becomes nothing more than bumper cars. Why not limit the field to 14 horses and make up a new selection process that allows for the best horses competing that season to run?
The Breeders Cup has come up with some stellar ideas over the years to promote the series, but on the flip side has come up with some pretty stupid ideas as well. The Win and Your In program should be kept and should keep expanding into other countries and continents, so that horses from Europe, Japan, and Australia can also compete. However I would say that these types of races should only be reserved for the major divisions, such as Classic, Turf, Distaff, Juvenile and Sprint. The elimination of the Juvenile Sprint, Turf Sprint and Marathon would also help regain some of the lost luster.
Racing needs to bring its head out of the sand and into the light. The leaders of this sport need to make sure that it is not being cheapened and stand up and fight for what will improve it, rather than let others make decisions that just lead the sport deeper into oblivion. Will change be easy? No, it never is. But it is necessary in order anything, human, business, sports, to continue to thrive.