The Breeders’ Cup “World” Thoroughbred Championships

It’s very easy to get wrapped up in your own corner of the world, without any regard to other nations.  England values their Derby day above all others, but for many American racing fans, that event is no more than an interesting race overseas.  And while Super Saturday is of the utmost importance to America, it’s barely on anyone else’s radar around the globe.  The Internet gives us the opportunity to appreciate all racing, but we’re still very nationalistic in terms of what constitutes a championship event.

After all, there is still travel to think about.  Why send your prized Japanese colt to run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, when you can keep him at home for the ultra-prestigious Japan Cup instead?  In that country, a Breeders’ Cup winner is one to be respected; a Japan Cup winner becomes a superstar.  Why should the best stayer in Australia have to prove his worth in Arcadia, California, when there’s the Melbourne Cup to think about?

And that leads me to my main point, a topic that has caused debates and pushed people to their breaking points – why do we still call the Breeders’ Cup the World Thoroughbred Championships?

These two days in late autumn have become the deciding factor for North America’s Eclipse Awards – a troubling correlation, to be sure, but not as troubling as the audacity to label our meeting as the “World Championships.”  What horses do you see at the Breeders’ Cup every year?  We have lots of American horses, both stars looking to cement their glory and hopeless longshots willing to take a chance for millions of dollars.  A handful of European horses join the fray, many of which have taken our natives by storm, flying home for a different flag, a different anthem.  Peppered into the fields are some South American horses, some imported and others shipping up from the Southern Hemisphere.  But do three continents make “World Championships”?

What of Hong Kong?  What of Australia?  What of South America, or Japan, or Dubai?

Wouldn’t it be a thrill to see the greatest sprinters from down under go head to head with our own on Santa Anita’s winding downhill course?  Yet you rarely, if ever, see Australian entries at the Breeders’ Cup.  Japan produces some of the fleetest horses on the planet, so wouldn’t it be amazing to watch them take on our best?  There are some magnificent horses all over the world; why don’t they try their hand at what we think is the “biggest day in racing”?  The answer is simple – they have bigger and better to prepare for.

In my opinion, it would be more apt to name Dubai World Cup day as the “World Championships.”  There you have Americans, Australians, Europeans, South Africans, runners from Hong Kong and Japan, and, of course, horses native to the Middle East.  Meydan is a delightful melting pot of cultures, nationalities, and top-notch racehorses.  And while Breeders’ Cup day is a fun-filled event filled with competitive fields, it is far from having the international flavor that a meeting like Meydan has.

The misnomer of the Breeders’ Cup has led American racing fans to be quite pretentious about their championship day.  If an international horse doesn’t come to the Breeders’ Cup, they are “scared to take on the best.”  If a European star flounders on the new surface, he is said to be “overrated.”  And when our champions win one of these lucrative million dollar races, they are, of course, “the best in the world.”  Yes, decisions are made here over who is the best American horse running; Eclipse Awards are won or lost under the shadow of all that royal purple.

But the best in the world?  I don’t think so.

Let me know when we have horses from six continents represented in Breeders’ Cup fields.  Until then, I will be incredulous at claims of our international superiority and be skeptical at the weight of a “World Championship.”

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