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It's only worth watching the Cup highlights.


ADMITTEDLY, the marketing men may not be able to sell the bloated two-day affair under the tag 'practically a race for every horse in training', but that is the truth that is out there, and within that truth there is a lesson for British racing to absorb.

When the Breeders' Cup began in 1984 there were but seven races in a glorious afternoon of top-class competition - two two-year-old races (one for fillies and one for colts) a sprint, a distaff race, a mile race, a turf race and the climactic Classic, the richest prize in the sport.

Now, of course, there are somehow 15 races and the richest prize in the sport is held somewhere else. It's a lesson in how progress can be a retrograde step.

In the good old days, there were opportunities for European horses in the mile race and the turf race, and those trainers who fancied a bold approach could set their caps at a one-off dirt challenge. The addition of a turf race for fillies and mares was another viable target for those on the right-hand side of the Atlantic and provided no dilution in the overall approach.

Now, though, as far as dilution is concerned, we're working on almost homeopathic levels. We still have the seven originals, plus the eighth 'wonder', but from nowhere seven other races have been drafted in to supposedly improve the product. Let's have a look and see if they do.

Yesterday, on what we could term 'feeble Friday', there were two races for two-year-old fillies, one on turf and one on dirt, a filly and mare sprint (no, honestly), yet another juvenile race, this time designated a sprint, plus the traditional distaff race on dirt and the not-so-new turf race.

Today, on what we won't call 'super Saturday' because we were brought up to tell the truth, there's a smorgasbord combining the old and the new, the new comprising a turf sprint and a dirt mile, another juvenile race, this one on turf, and something terrible for stayers.

The Marathon. Ye gods. It's as though Royal Ascot staged a quarter-horse to lure a few Statesiders, as though someone daubed Homer Simpson's face into the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The US doesn't do staying races. A mile and a half is at least two furlongs too far for them, notwithstanding the generally unedifying spectacle of the Belmont field coming home like a load of cavalry dismounts out of the Balaclava smoke. It's an anachronism straight out of the dictionary definition.

Furthermore, why are there five races for two-year-olds? Why are there three sprint races when one, on dirt for males and females, is ample? Why must there be a prize for everyone and everyone with a prize, like those poxy modern school sports days? Well, it's nothing to do with me. Let the Breeders' Cup committee go to work, so that 15 (count 'em) horses can become Breeders' Cup winners with all the ancillary stud value and sale value. Marvellous. But no-one should pretend that it's somehow some great weekend of championship racing, as if there were possibly 15 categories of horse that matter.

The Breeders' Cup has become suitable only for a highlights package, so viewers can fast-forward through the races that simply don't matter, which is most of them.

Essentially, a great race meeting should not attempt to be something for everyone. It shouldn't matter if some horses aren't catered for by bespoke race planners, accounting for every foible in the stud book. That's how we gauge good horses, by their ability to adapt to different challenges, by their ability to roam successfully outside their comfort zones.

THAT'S why the outstanding miler Frankel won't be a copperbottomed access-all-areas great until he wins over more or less than a mile at the top level, until he wins outside Britain. A horse's reach must exceed its grasp, or what's a pantheon for? The Breeders' Cup is lowering the bar not raising it, prioritising diversity in place of quality. Sure, they get two days' racing out of one and look how the money rolls in. Well, if that's what they're after ... Some say the Cheltenham Festival has gone the same way because, let's face it, there are only so many 'championship events' you can invent and still retain your earlier credibility. Add as many handicaps and supplementary conditions races as you like, but let's not pretend they increase the gaiety of nations as much as they increase the financial rewards for the organisers.

If it's quality you want, one night of the Breeders' Cup easily encompassed it. Because bigger is not always better, and less is usually more. Funny how we usually find that out when it's too late.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Nov 5, 2011
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