Another sign of shorter odds for Breeders’ Cup return to Churchill Downs

roadlogoAfter the announcement earlier this week that Churchill Downs Inc.’s TwinSpires.com would be the official wagering partner of the Breeders’ Cup, Wednesday saw the announcement that Churchill is doubling the value of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in qualifying for the Kentucky Derby.

All of this would seem to point toward a return sooner rather than later of the year-end thoroughbred championships to the Central Avenue track where they’ve had their greatest successes.

While the switch to a points system four years ago to qualify for the Kentucky Derby (should more than 20 horses enter) has largely been viewed as a positive for America’s greatest race, treating the Juvenile like other 2-year-old preps probably was the most frequent criticism of the system. Besides being a frequent criticism generally, that points decision caused some grumbling for the Lexington-based Breeders’ Cup.

The doubling of the points – the Juvenile winner will get 20 – puts the race first among preps for freshman runners while, rightly, not making it worth as much as the key preps in the spring.

“Our committee has annually reviewed past results and discussed input from stakeholders,” track President Kevin Flanery said in a statement. “We believe this new valuation of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is warranted.”

(Warranted? Little has changed since the committee made its initial decision. Then, as now, only one horse – Street Sense – has won both of the races and only five Derby winners even ran in the Juvenile. While the Juvenile does deserve more points in terms of importance, the change by Churchill now would seem to say there’s a reason behind the change beyond how Juvenile runners have done in the Derby. Either Churchill is admitting a mistake or this is part of the better Breeders’ Cup-Churchill relations. I think committee members still think their original call was right – so that leaves the warmer, fuzzier relationship.)

More significantly, it’s another sign that the two sides are getting along better. Again, the site selection might be separate and might not be a done deal but it increasingly seems inevitable, whether that’s 2018 or shortly after.

“We truly appreciate Churchill Downs’ responsiveness in recognizing the high quality of excellence that the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile annually attracts,” Breeders’ Cup President Craig Fravel said in the announcement. “The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile … winner is frequently the wintertime poster boy for the upcoming Kentucky Derby. Our team is thrilled to have an expanded role in this popular series, and it’s a testament to the exceptional horses that our global event attracts.”

With a limited amount of checking, I believe the statement by Fravel is the first time that a Churchill announcement regarding the points system has included a quote from a non-Churchill official – if we’re reading tea leaves.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies also will have its points doubled in qualifying horses for the Longines Kentucky Oaks (should more than 14 enter).

The Breeders’ Cup, which will be at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., this fall is booked through 2017. It last was at Churchill in 2011.

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