Silver-Anniversary Breeders' Cup Feature New Wrinkles
by Greg Melikov - 10/08/2008
The 25th Breeders Cup World Championships has several new wrinkles that will affect handicapping and wagering.
There will be 14 races spread over two days, including eight Grade 1s. Oct. 24 features five contests for the gals, including the $2 million BC Ladies Classic, previously known as the Distaff.
On Oct. 25, nine races for males includes the $5 million BC Classic, which likely will pit Curlin, 2007 Horse of the Year that captured last year's contest, and Big Brown, this year's Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner.
The Super High Five, which requires bettors to pick the top five finishers, will be offered in the Ladies Classic and the Classic. If there are no winning tickets on Friday, Oct. 24, 75 percent of the pool carries over to Saturday, Oct. 25, when there's a mandatory payout.
That Friday card also will offer a Pick Six, which could carry over to the following Saturday if no one has all six winners. That Pick Six guarantees at least a $3 million payoff.
The biggest challenge facing horseplayers is handicapping eight of the 14 races on the main track with the new synthetic turf.
Santa Anita has changed racing surfaces twice since last year. First, a Cushion Track that cost $11 million was installed before the Oak Tree meeting began 13 months ago in September. The cost: $11 million.
The change met the California Horse Racing Board mandate requiring most major tracks on the Left Coast to switch to synthetic surfaces by the end of 2007 to reduce fatalities among horses. So far it has.
Then Oak Tree was awarded the BC World Championships on Aug. 22, 2007 -- the first time some races will be staged on a surface other than dirt. Since the richest event in U.S. racing debuted at Hollywood Park, it was fitting a Southern California track will serve as host for the seventh time - Oak Tree's fourth.
Early in 2008, Santa Anita lost 11 days of racing when faced with drainage problems caused by heavy rains. Repairs were made that included material from Pro-Ride Racing in Australia, successfully blended with the Cushion Track.
Then the 2009 BC also was went to Oak Tree - the first time America's showcase racing event will be staged at the same track in consecutive years.
Last summer, it was decided to replace the main track with Pro-Ride's all-weather synthetic surface comprised of carefully graded sands, a unique cushioning agent and a patented polymeric binding agent. The cost: $6 million.
Since Santa Anita reopened for training Aug. 31 and the Oak Tree meeting began on Sept. 24, the surface received rave notices from owners, trainers and riders aiming to win BC races.
Gary Stevens, a TV racing analyst who retired nearly three years ago with eight winning BC rides, called Santa Anita "the best track I've ever been on" after breezing two horses during a private session Aug. 30.
"It looks really and felt good in the first race," said jockey Rafael Bejarano, who won three races opening day, including two victories over the synthetic surface. "It looks like it is very fair and it's consistent."
Victor Espinoza: "It feels like it is comfortable. I think it will be better with time."
Mike Smith: "My mount in the third race handled it with no problems."
David Flores: "It feels firm and was very comfortable."
The praise continued following five Grade 1 races the last weekend in September.