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About that new Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint

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I was a bit surprised to read Jay Hovdey's piece over at the Daily Racing Form yesterday criticizing the new Juvenile Sprint Breeders' Cup race. (Jay Hovdey: Ascot Envy) Any time a new race is added to the Breeders' Cup there's the usual reaction against change.  Many of the new races are viewed negatively from a portion of the industry, especially the Marathon. In that light, the Juvenile Sprint is to some just another expansion to an already bloated program. I personally don't share that view, but I know that many others do.

Hovdey's focus on the new Juvenile Sprint ranged from a safety issue (fourteen juveniles in an all-out, one-turn, sprint), to a bigger issue of overall perspective within the Breeders' Cup itself.  One line from that article caught my attention more than any other was the following:

"Prediction: 10 years from now pundits will be amazed that no winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint has ever made the field for the Breeders' Cup Regular Sprint."

I'm not really sure the above situation would be that big of a surprise to many followers of the Breeders' Cup, especially those that pay close attention to the juvenile races.  No winner of a Breeders' Cup Juvenile race (dirt or turf, male or female) has ever so much as won a future Breeders' Cup race.  And only once in the entire history of the Breeders' Cup has a winner of a juvenile race come back to finish as high as 2nd in a later race (Storm Flag Flying, who won the Juvenile Fillies in 2002 and then finished 2nd in the Distaff in 2004)*.  In addition, the overwhelming majority of juvenile starters at the Breeders' Cup never start in a subsequent Breeders' Cup race (see chart below). But that, in my opinion, is not so much of a flaw of the Breeders' Cup as it is a characteristic of juvenile racing in general.

Juvenile Starters in Subsequent Breeders' Cup Races (1984 - 2010)

Race Starters    Sub. BC %    Total Horses %
Juvenile 324 66 20.37% 52 16.05%
Juvenile Fillies 315 53 16.83% 42 13.33%
Juvenile Turf 48 6 12.50% 5 10.42%
Juvenile Filly Turf 38 2 5.26% 2 5.26%
Total 725 127 17.53% 101 13.93%


In the chart above, "Sub. BC" is the total number of subsequent Breeders' Cup races that horses from a particular juvenile event have raced in the following years.  For example, Pleasant Tap ran in the Juvenile in 1989 and then ran in three Breeders' Cup races in the future (1990 Turf, 1991 Sprint, 1992 Classic). All three of those races are captured in the "Sub. BC" number.

The column "Total Horses" is the total number of horses from that race that have run in a subsequent Breeders' Cup race. It does not count multiple starts by the same horse.

The numbers above paint a fairly typical picture of two-year-olds horses: juvenile racing is volatile and unpredictable, with a bevy of one-hit wonders. Those one-hit wonders include graded stakes winners and Breeders' Cup winners. 

On average, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Juvenile Fillies might produce three or four horses (from a 14-horse field) that will run in any Breeders' Cup race at some point during the rest of their career, at best.  The Juvenile Turf races haven't produced much in terms of subsequent starters but I'm not really surprised at that given the newness of the races.  I would expect those numbers to go up a bit in the future, although I'm not sure they will ever get as high as their dirt counterparts. 

Where will the Juvenile Sprint fit into this picture?  I'm of the opinion that we'll see at least similar number to the Juvenile Turf races, which means perhaps 7% to 10% return runners in the future. Furthermore, I don't view the race as a bad addition on the part of the Breeders' Cup.  If we're going to argue that a Juvenile Sprint is a bad idea, then I'm not sure how we can't argue that ALL juvenile races at the Breeders' Cup are a bad idea.  If anything, a Juvenile Sprint is probably a better fit than the other four races since trainers and owners can chose a better distance for some of their horses rather than trying to stretch them out to two turns before they are really ready. 

While Hovdey's concerns with juvenile racing and the ever expanding Breeders' Cup are ones shared by many within the industry, I think it's important to note that the Breeders' Cup is one of the few events in racing that attracts significant interest from within the country and from around the world.  In most places outside of North America, juveniles are rarely asked to run more than six or seven furlongs until they turn into three-year-olds; a Juvenile Sprint might just fit in better with a global perspective.

*As a side note, below are the only horses to run in a Juvenile race and then win a Breeders' Cup race in a subsequent year:

Alysheba (3rd, 1986 Juvenile, won 1988 Classic)
Ashado (2nd, 2003 Juvenile Fillies, won 2004 Distaff)
Beautiful Pleasure (10th, 1997 Juvenile Fillies; won 1999 Distaff)
Cat Thief (3rd, 1998 Juvenile; won 1999 Classic)
Dance Smartly (3rd, 1990 Juvenile Fillies; won 1991 Distaff)
Gulch (5h, 1986 Juvenile; won 1988 Sprint)
Sachuista (4th, 1986 Juvenile Fillies; won 1987 Distaff)
Spain (4th, 1999 Juvenile Fillies; won 2000 Distaff)