Are Belmont Stakes With the Breeders Cup Classic Getting Tougher?


A brown horse standing next to a fence

The Breeders Cup Classic is a Grade I Weight for Age regular horse race traditionally held monthly at a distance of either 1+1⁅ miles or dirt, held yearly from late October to early November at another track. This year marks the centennial of the first-ever Breeders’ Cup Classic. Organized by the United States Racing Association, the Classic includes over one hundred horses of seven classes. Horses advancing to the next level are tested at each race. The winning horses are named the Breeders’ Cup Classic Triple Crown champions.

The United States Racing Association (USRA) was formed in 1913 with the stated purpose of “assisting the better breeds of horse racing in our country”. In its earliest years, the Cup was simply called the “CHEAP”. It was intended to help pay for the expenses of participating in the annual Cup Classic. A painter was also identified as being qualified to play the role of judge, presenter, and trainer. These days the term “Championship” has been used to describe the entire purse winnings.

Breeders Cup Classic

A close up of a horse

As a result of some very high-profile races held decades ago such as the Belmont Stakes, the Classic became known as the Belmont Stakes Classic. The USRA felt that it had to include a reference to the Belmont in its name for this reason. In the early days, the Belmont Stakes was a turf handicap program with horses coming from three distinct classes: Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Cocker Spaniels. This continued through to the present day. This same policy continues but the Classic has been moved to a shorter distance to allow those less than the proper skill level to compete.

All types of events now call the Belmont “the Cup”. There is nothing derogatory about the name. It simply means competition of long shots. The reason the term has been changed is because of the long declining popularity of the Belmont Stakes program. The reason it has declined is the number of young, first-time competitors. The reason for the decline in participation has little to do with skill or physical ability but has much more to do with a financial interest.

Let’s Keep Reading… 

A horse standing under a cloudy sky

The program is still popular with horseplayers but is no longer quite as lucrative as it was when the Belmont Stakes was first started. Because of this, the betting on the Classic has decreased to the point where many, if not most, of those participating actually lose money on the betting program. One reason for this is that so few young, new participants are entering the program. Another reason for this is because of how the Belmont is now reduced to only three classes with only two beings “real” contenders.

Belmont Stakes has been altered again. They have moved from the old format of a field of four classes to a field of eight classes. Each class is composed of four tripoli and two mare bets. This change will make the Belmont much less juicy, but it will still be a dog race that will consist mostly of the trip solo.

The new plan for Belmont racing also reduced the “bets per distance”. This is a rule that usually gives the insiders a rough idea of how much each horse will earn, but not a true picture of a horse’s true abilities. Belmont betting has long depended on predicting a dog’s chances of winning based on its past performances at similar races. With this rule change, Belmont betting has suffered as many feel that they are already giving too much information away about their horse’s abilities. I believe this is strictly based on the fact that some people have always loved betting on horses and would rather see them at their best form than others.

Final Thoughts 

The new Belmont rules have changed the sport for everyone. It is no longer just a fun day at the track for the families and friends who come to watch the races, but a real professional sport that people can take seriously. I am looking forward to the next Belmont race at Santa Anita Park in California. I will probably stick with harness racing, as the betting options are limited. Who knows, maybe Zenyatta will show up and give the field a run for their money.

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