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British Champions Day: Races Added to the Weekend

Three juvenile races are re-scheduled to the Friday before British Champions Day at Newmarket.

Alan Crowhurst

The calendar for top class racing around the world in the fall just became a bit more crowded after the announcement of the expansion of the expansion of the British Champions Day to a "British Champions Weekend". According to an article at the Racing Post, beginning in 2014 a Future Champions Day will take place on the Friday before British Champions Day at Newmarket Racecourse. The Future Champions Day will comprise three Group 1 races for juveniles - the Dewhurst, Middle Park and the Fillies' Mile Stakes - while the Saturday card will see the Fillies and Mares Stakes upgraded from a Group 2 to a Group 1.

When the changes begin in 2014, the British Champions Weekend will look like this:

Friday -
G1-Middle Park Stakes (6f, 2yo colts)
G1-Dewhurst Stakes (7f, 2yos)
G1-Fillies' Miles (8f, 2yo f)

Saturday -
G1-British Champions Mile (QE II Stakes; 8f, 3&up)
G1-Champions Stakes (10f, 3&up)
G1-Fillies' & Mares Stakes (12f, 3&up f&m)
G2-British Champions Sprint (6f, 3&up)
G3-British Champions Long Distance Cup (16f, 3&up)

Now let's look at the overall calendar beginning with the Arc on the first Saturday in October:

Date Race Dist. Cond. Surf.
4-Oct & 5-Oct G2-Prix Chaudenay 15.00 3yo Turf
G2-Prix Daniel Wildenstein 8.00 3&up Turf
G2-Prix de Royallieu 12.50 3&up, f&m Turf
G2-Prix Dollar 9.75 3&up Turf
G1-Prix du Cadran 20.00 4&up Turf
G1-Prix de l'Abbaye 5.00 2yo Turf
G1-Prix Marcel Boussac 8.00 2yo, f Turf
G1-Prix Jean-Luc Legardere 7.00 2yo Turf
G1-Prix de la Foret 7.00 3&up Turf
G1-Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe 12.00 3&up Turf
G1-Prix de l'Opera 10.00 3&up, f&m Turf
17-Oct G1-Middle Park Stakes 6.00 2yo, c Turf
G1-Dewhurst Stakes 7.00 2yo Turf
G1-Fillies' Miles 8.00 2yo, f Turf
18-Oct G1-British Champions Mile 8.00 3&up Turf
G1-Champions Stakes 10.00 3&up Turf
G1-Fillies' & Mares Stakes 12.00 3&up, f&m Turf
G2-British Champions Sprint 6.00 3&up Turf
G2-British Champions Long Distance Cup 16.00 3&up Turf
31-Oct & 1-Nov G2-BC Marathon 14.00 3&up Dirt
or G1-BC Juvenile Fillies Turf 8.00 2yo, f Turf
7-Nov & 8-Nov G1-BC Juvenile Fillies 8.50 2yo Dirt
G1-BC Filly & Mare Turf 10.00 3&up, f&m Turf
G1-BC Ladies' Classic 9.00 3&up, f&m Dirt
G1-BC Juvenile Turf 8.00 2yo Turf
G1-BC Filly & Mare Sprint 7.00 3&up, f&m Dirt
G1-BC Sprint 6.00 3&up Dirt
G1-BC Turf Sprint 6.50 3&up Turf
G1-BC Dirt Mile 8.00 3&up Dirt
G1-BC Turf 12.00 3&up Turf
G1-BC Juvenile 8.50 2yo, c Dirt
G1-BC Mile 8.00 3&up Turf
G1-BC Classic 10.00 3&up Dirt

As it stands right now, British Champions Weekend is right in the middle of the four-week run between the Arc and the Breeders' Cup, assuming the Breeders' Cup is run on the first weekend in November. Is there a possible impact on the Breeders' Cup turf races? While there will be some impact, it probably not any more than the last couple of years.

The Breeders' Cup juvenile turf races are likely to be targeted by the colts and fillies that bypass the Group 1 races at Newmarket and Longchamp at the end of the season, usually because of ground conditions and/or class. In terms of ground conditions, horses that come to the U.S. from Europe are typically looking for firmer ground, like George Vancouver in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. (Although, it should be noted, George Vancouver was 3rd in last year's Dewhurst on Oct. 13 before shipping to the U.S, a three-week gap between races. The Dewhurst was a week before British Champions Day in 2012.)

One way the British Champions Day will certainly continue to impact the Breeders' Cup is with some of the high class runners that attempt to do the quick two-week turnaround. The ability of horses to run a top effort at Newmarket and then turnaround and fly to North America and run a top level race in the Breeders' Cup will be tested. Last fall we saw Excelebration (IRE), a very good and consistent runner in Europe over the season, struggle mightily in the Mile after winning the British Champions Mile two weeks prior.

It's hard enough for horses to win the Kentucky Derby and then turn around and win the Preakness two weeks later. The level of difficulty goes up considerably when you have a horse trying to win two top class races in two weeks with a trans-Atlantic flight thrown into the mix.

The best choice for owners and trainers in Europe that want to come to the Breeders' Cup will probably be the Arc-BC preparation, with horses targeting any of the British Champions Weekend races as their goal skipping the festivities in France. I think we'll still see horses attempt to run pull the British Champions-BC double, but that's probably going to be a much harder feat to pull off given the spacing.

There's one more option for European horses targeting the Breeders' Cup and it's a move that's pretty popular: shipping to the U.S. to run in one of the Super Saturday races at Belmont Park, like the Flower Bowl or the Hirsch Turf, (or perhaps one of the big turf races at Woodbine) and then either ship back to Europe to train before coming back for the BC, or simply remaining in North America. For horses that probably don't match up the best with the top runners on Arc or British Champions Weekend, it makes sense to come over to North America a bit earlier to test their abilities.

From simply my perspective as a race fan, the four weeks of racing beginning with the Arc and concluding with the Breeders' Cup are a fantastic collection of conditions and a stern test of brilliance. With few exceptions, the fields for all of these events are deep and contentious, requiring a top-level performance to ensure success.

UPDATE: Just as a quick FYI, below are the horses the pre-entered the 2012 Breeders' Cup that ran on either Arc weekend or British Champions Day. No horse attempted to run on all three weekends.

Flotilla (FR): Juvenile Fillies Turf - Prix Marcel Boussac
Ridasiyna (FR): F&M Turf - Prix de l'Opera
Fame and Glory (GB): Marathon - British Champions Long Distance Cup
Starspangledbanner (AUS): Turf Sprint - Prix de la Foret
Shareta (IRE): Turf - Arc
St Nicholas Abbey (RIE): Turf - Arc
Excelebration (IRE): Mile - British Champions Mile