It’s autumn and, in about two weeks, thoroughbred race fans will once again have their chance to see the very best horses compete in 13 Breeders’ Cup Championships races at Southern California’s Santa Anita Park.
Only 14 starters are allowed to compete in each of the 13 Championship races, except for the Dirt Mile, which limits the field to 12 starters. With increases to $28 million in purses and awards up for grabs, oftentimes the number of horses wishing to enter exceeds the number of runners allowed.
Since January, horses have been competing worldwide in “Win and Your In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Races, which assure the victor a spot in the BC starting gate on Nov. 4-5.
81 of these winning competitors are now entered.
Some have won twice and one winner, Exaggerator, the Preakness Stakes champion, has been retired. There has already been a great deal of excitement generated, as race fans saw California Chrome secure a berth and the much-loved Songbird breeze on to the roster with her easy victory. The widely-known Tepin, a favorite to win her race, was upset by Photo Call, which has generated a great deal of interest in a potential rematch in the Championships. Comeback expert, Lady Eli, recovered from an extreme case of life-threatening laminitis to secure her position in the gate as well.
But what if you don’t capture a designated “Win and You’re In” event? What if you are one of the hundreds of horse owners with a desire to vie for life-changing championship honors and a championship payday and only 100 starting positions remain? What then?
For starters, the costs involved to enter the Breeders’ Cup are significant.
All horses that enter are responsible for paying pre-entry and entry fees, and those fees have increased this year. If you want to start your horse in the Classic or the Turf, this year’s fee of 2.5 percent of the purse means you’re writing a check for $150,000 or $100,000 respectively. All of the other races have increased fees from 2 percent in 2015 to 3 percent this year. Additionally, there are travel costs that can average $10,000 for domestic horses and significantly more for horses traveling internationally. According to the racing office, essentially 50 of the “Win and You’re In” horses will have their entry fees paid for by Breeders’ Cup and about 135 will receive travel benefit compensation.
Another way to gain a starting berth is through a point system. Points are awarded based on your horse’s performance in Breeder’s Cup Challenge Races.
And, lastly, a panel of international racing experts will make a judgment as to the merits of interested entrants. They will do this in just a few days on Oct. 24.
In the 2005 film “Dreamer,” Cale Crane (played by a young Dakota Fanning) stands on a kitchen chair one night and asks her family, “Why not us?”
The movie then documents Crane’s attempt to get her unlikely mare, Sonhador, entered in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. When asked to meet with the panel of judges, Crane is barely tall enough to be seen in the crowd, but her spark and fire ignite enough passion to convince the judges that her horse deserves a shot. The feel-good story ends with the previously injured Sonhador winning the prestigious race.
Over the past 19 years, favorites have won the Breeders’ Cup Championship Races 30.5 percent of the time. It will certainly be great for racing if this year’s Championships result in surprise happy endings, giving racing connections everywhere the inspiration to adopt Crane’s hopeful mantra, “Why not us?”