Declan Rix

After two high-class nights of Breeders' Cup action from Santa Anita, Declan Rix hopes more European fans embrace what is one of Flat racing's highlights of the season.

  • Sunday 03 November
  • Blog
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EMBRACE THE BREEDERS’ CUP

On Friday and Saturday, we had two quality nights racing from Santa Anita at the 2019 Breeders’ Cup. Live on Sky Sports Racing there was NBC Sports coverage, which was colourful, crisp, engaging and really, just enjoyable.

While the analysis of the European raiders in California wasn’t as strong as the work done on the home team, the pre-race and post-race analysis made you want to listen. Pre and post-race interviews also made you sit up while the many colour piece features run forced you to hold any toilet or refreshment break until concluded.

There were shots of horses going to the start of every race with the Stateside betting odds, of which you could bet into, clearly visible. As a racing fan and punter, the coverage gave you everything needed to enjoy what is labelled as the World Championships of horse racing.

As ever though, the horses are always the main draw and from a European perspective this season’s Breeders’ Cup lacked the star quality that has gone to America in previous years. There was nothing close to an Enable last weekend and probably not even a Magical.

With no ‘local’ horses having that magnetic effect racing needs to draw in fans and viewers, and the American mainstay of dirt racing (I’m guessing) not as appealing to the majority of Euro-based enthusiasts, the beautiful draw of the Santa Anita backdrop would not be enough to spike huge interests.  

From this sense, the Breeders’ Cup probably didn’t appeal as much as previous runnings, but we are still talking about top class racing where the biggest names in the sport, from owners to trainers to jockeys all want to win and where they competed.

From a betting point of view, with the excellent coverage available, after all the hard work of watching video replays and analysing form is done, you can sit back and enjoy it all, maybe with a pizza and a beer, in the hope of at least covering those costs.

For me, it’s the perfect evening to watch this great sport with like-minded people, have a bet and relax. So, what really grates is the consistent moaning that takes place around the event every year.

I think most of it comes from National Hunt fans, who as we all know just like to watch Elliott, Henderson, Mullins and Nicholls odds-on shots win in uncompetitive events. Variables like the draw, pace and pedigrees are too much for them to understand so events like the Breeders’ Cup leave them dazed and confused.

And instead of not watching something they don’t like, they will instead tune in and moan about it. A strange way to spend one’s time.

Here’s a thought though, and for the casual bettors that also like to throw their toys out of the pram when their horses gets beaten, why don’t you embrace the Breeders’ Cup, the American style of racing and challenge yourself instead? We are quite lucky in Europe that we have a range of different and idiosyncratic tracks, but few like the American style.

Over the weekend there were many moans of Santa Anita being a “dog track”, in reference to it’s tight, sharp turns. It’s almost like viewers were stunned, they expected a Newbury-like open, galloping layout but got Chester instead.

Every single person pre-Breeders’ Cup knew exactly what challenges Santa Anita possessed, for horse and rider, especially their turf course where most Euros would run. This was the Breeders’ Cup’s sixth visit in 11 years to the course.

As well as a horse’s class being tested; gate speed, an ability to get into stride quickly, travel sweetly, quicken up and handle proper fast ground are all under the microscope. A jockey’s aptitude is also open to being exposed, as is the trainer’s and owner’s decision-making, in putting forward their own horse(s) to compete.

Iridessa wins at the Breeders' Cup
Iridessa (red) and Wayne Lordan adapted beautifully to Santa Anita

Punters too; do we have the skills to find the type of European-based horses capable of handling America’s best turf competitors in their own back yard? Or maybe, just maybe, punters could actually research and back American runners?

But alas, this objective and respectful thinking of the top American horses and the American style of racing, for me, is often missing from Euro-based fans and punters. Not all of them, obviously, but there is an element of arrogance, maybe more ignorance, there, that if ‘we’ send our horses to compete in the Breeders’ Cup they will win.

Similar to Australia, when our so-called “second rate” horses go down there and do well, automatically, it’s just assumed that Australian racing is poorer, not that a horse could thrive for different training, style of racing and in a warmer climate etc.

There have been great European nights at the Breeders’ Cup in recent memory; six winners at Santa Anita in 2009, five winners at Santa in 2013, and maybe that has affected thinking, but there was also a 2014 Santa Anita blank, and the 2019 (Iridessa) and 2012 Santa Anita single winners.  

Among the victors in 2009 were Conduit, Goldikova and Midday, a trio of genuine top-class horses and that just shows the type of calibre you need to be successful at the meeting, especially at a track as testing as Santa Anita.

You obviously also need to get lucky and get a low draw, ideally, but the luck of the draw has long been part of Flat horse racing and is not just an American dilemma.

The Breeders’ Cup every year has so much to offer, from the quality of racing to the brilliant broadcast. It offers something different, on just two nights of the whole year. Embrace it.

Declan Rix
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