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2008 Breeders' Cup: General Thoughts and Observations

-The American handicapping public still has a lot to learn about playing synthetic surfaces, as evidenced by the 4/5 odds on Curlin prior to the start of the Classic. Those were awful odds considering his unfamiliarity with the surface.

The public not understanding the difference between synthetic and dirt form, however, is great news for horseplayers that want to cash-in win bets at boxcar prices.

-The Breeders' Cup claims that handle was up 5% from last year, but when you factor in three new races, and you analyze the card race-by-race compared to 2007, handle was actually down. I think you can attribute some of that loss to the economy, the two-day format (with three Grade 1s relegated to a Friday afternoon), and to a general apathy towards running the event over the ProRide surface.

This year's Pick 6 pool was under the $3 million guarantee, meaning the Breeders' Cup had to make up the difference. Notice in the linked chart that the pool was exactly $3 million, a sure sign that the actual pool was less than that amount and had to be supplemented in order to reach the guarantee.

-The BC goes back to Churchill Downs in 2010, where we will see the return of dirt racing, and most likely a dramatic reduction in the number of Euros that will attempt to compete on the main track.

-I already complained about the two-day format, and I will one more time. It is entirely possible to run all 14 races on the same day, and even if it is not, there is no reason to split up the Grade 1's.

-ESPN's coverage was really hit and miss this year, with the camera shots during the race bordering on awful.

Why ESPN keeps trying to re-invent the wheel with respect to televising horse racing is beyond me. The people that tune in to the Breeders' Cup are horse racing fans and players. They don't want fluff, they wants odds, payouts, and camera shots where they can see the entire field. Instead, ESPN treats us to a barrage of feel-good stories about the USC Song Team, Hammerin' Hank walking around Santa Anita with his piggy bank, and a bunch of other crap.

I suppose there is an ESPN executive somewhere that would say they are trying to attract casual fans in order to broaden the viewing audience. But really, how many casual fans are going to be attracted to the sport because of this fluff? You know what will attract more people to the sport? A show where you can actually see the entire field during a race.

Let's face it, most horseplayers and fans of the game enjoy the wagering aspect. Yes, the horses are beautiful and it's an exciting sport to watch, but it's much more exciting if you've got money riding on a race. Without the gambling side of the game, the sport would slip into even greater obscurity.

The Breeders' Cup sees some of the biggest payouts of the year due to the large, competitive fields. Yet year after year, ESPN neglects this side of the game. And, 'no', having a 30 second spot with Hank running through two picks is not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about actually showing a full result chart graphic with payouts for all the exotic bets (doubles, pick 3's, pick 4's, etc.). And maybe a little bit of a discussion about the payouts. Randy Moss is one of the brightest minds in the game, yet he rarely gets to display his knowledge during these water downed shows..

ESPN is decent at showing the odds (although it wouldn't hurt to see some Exacta and Daily Double 'will pays' once and a while), but they are horrible about promoting the wagering side of the game. The gambling side appears to be more of an afterthought with ESPN falling into the black hole of 30-second sound bites: No room for any real analysis because we got to show a clip of some celebrity that is betting on a horse with the same name as his mother!

Here's a question for ESPN executives: When broadcasting a college football game, would you use a camera that is on the ground in the back of the endzone to show each play? I'm guessing you wouldn't since no one would be able to tell, with any certainty, who has the ball or what is exactly taking place. Would you fail to show the score, the clock, and the offensive and defensive statistics? How about the down and distance to go? I think we all know that the answer to these questions is "no". If that's the case, why do you essentially do the same thing during the Breeders' Cup? Think about that over the next year.