Despite Chrome’s Loss, Best Is Yet to Come in Horse Racing


By Sara Dacus

Sara Dacus

Sara Dacus

Horse racing aficionados appreciate the extra enthusiasts we picked up during the Triple Crown mania.  Reports reveal that our national fanbase is in decline, so we need to proselytize new members.  Even though California Chrome did not become the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown, please stick around because the best is yet to come.

The best is yet to come is not just a cliché:  it is the theme of The Breeders’ Cup.  The Breeders’ Cup is the next stop in the Arkansas race fan’s yearly cycle of Oaklawn/Triple Crown/Breeders’ Cup.  While the Kentucky Derby is arguably America’s most famous horse racing event, it is not America’s best racing event.  The Breeders’ Cup offers end-of-the-year championships.  It’s our Super Bowl.  This year, thirteen races will be held October 31 & November 1.

Let’s look at conditions.  Triple Crown races are limited to three year olds.  Breeders’ Cup races will showcase horses of all ages.  Could California Chrome beat the competitors of last year’s Triple Crown races?  At the Breeders’ Cup, we could potentially receive the answer to this question.  Also, the races are of varying lengths and run on both turf and dirt, so they give horses more opportunities to showcase their diverse strengths.  For example, races include the Turf Sprint and the Dirt Mile and more specialized races like the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Let’s compare purses.  At the Breeders’ Cup, a combined total of $26.5 million will be awarded.  The richest race is the $5,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Classic.  No race is worth less than $1,000,000.  In contrast, the Kentucky Derby offers $2,000,000 and the Preakness and Belmont both pay out $1,500,000. (Side note: The Arkansas Derby pays $1,000,000 and produces contenders in all of these races, so Arkansas is very relevant).

Just like the season leading up to Triple Crown races, the months prior to the Breeders’ Cup offer thrilling prep races that will be televised on NBC.  We will visit historic tracks like Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York, Del Mar in California  and Keeneland in Kentucky.

Saratoga, the second-oldest track in the country, will host several Breeders’ Cup prep races, including the Travers Stakes.  In one of the more whimsical traditions of thoroughbred racing, a canoe is painted to match the silks of the Travers winner, and it stays in an infield lake all year.  In 2012, two canoes called the lake home, as Alpha and Golden Ticket finished in a rare dead heat.  The canoe currently floating in those waters bears the colors of Arkansan Willis Horton of Marshall, whose horse Will Take Charge won the Travers in between Oaklawn stakes victories and receiving the 2013 Eclipse Award for Champion Three Year Old Colt.  This year, the Travers will be run on Saturday, August 23.

Del Mar, 20 miles north of San Diego, was built by a partnership that included Bing Crosby and a host of actors.  Bing Crosby met fans at the gate on opening day, and his voice singing “Where the turf meets the surf down at old Del Mar” continues to greet fans.  Del Mar will host the TVG Pacific Classic and a plethora of Hollywood celebrities on Sunday, August 24.

Keeneland has a very traditional feel and method of operating.  In fact, the track did not broadcast race calls over the public address system until 1997.  The Rolex lamppost clocks are an iconic part of the grounds that also include a sales complex and an extensive library archiving horse racing history.  Keeneland’s fall meet will open on October 3rd and will begin with two blockbuster days of stakes races.

After the Breeders’ Cup, Arkansas race fans will only have to wait just over two months until opening day at Oaklawn on January 9.  In Arkansas, the health of racing is much better than in other parts of the country, thanks to the incredible leadership of Charles Cella, dedicated supporters and the casino (ahem, the “electronic games of skill”). According to Thoroughbred Owner View, in 2013 Oaklawn ranked 13 out of 60 tracks based on average daily purse size, paying out more than tracks like Lone Star Park in the Dallas metroplex, Fair Grounds in New Orleans and Arlington Park in the Chicago area.  Oaklawn’s other virtues are extensive and are worthy of their own piece of writing.  Please stay tuned.

So, horse racing newbies, come for the Triple Crown.  Stay for more great racing, tradition and glamor.  I was ecstatic that after the Belmont, my sister called, wanting to discuss what she had just witnessed. Equally pleasing was a text I received from a coworker who now wants to visit Oaklawn.  Please build on the momentum created by the pursuit of the Triple Crown.  Between the Belmont and next year’s Kentucky Derby, the sport can do much better than California Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn imploding, conveniently coming up with a Triple Crown redesign post-loss.  Stick with us.  The best is yet to come.

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Sara Dacus was born and has spent the entirety of her life in Searcy, Arkansas.  She is an eighth grade English teacher for Searcy Public Schools.  In between teaching gigs, Sara wrote for five years in a hospital public relations position.  While she was dating her now-husband Casey Dacus, he took her to Oaklawn, and something about it really clicked with her.  Now she is an avid horse racing enthusiast who follows the sport closely, counting down the days until the live season in Arkansas begins.  The Dacuses have a little son who has a horse-racing themed nursery.

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