Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Breeders' Cup Reverses; Will Fund Stakes

By Lenny Shulman and Ron Mitchell

Five days after it announced it was suspending its North American Stakes program, Breeders’ Cup has apparently reversed itself and decided to fund the program for 2009, according to two members of its board.

The organization has come under intense criticism from breeders across North America who already had contributed stallion and foal nomination fees to Breeders’ Cup with the tacit agreement that Breeders’ Cup would help fund 100-120 stakes at about 40 racetracks across the continent, as the organization has done since its inception 25 years ago.

According to the two members who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the funding will come from the about $30 million Breeders’ Cup has in its coffers from nominations collected through the years. Breeders believe it's their money they have contributed to Breeders’ Cup.

An investment committee of Breeders’ Cup makes the decisions on where to invest funds, and the 13-member board of directors has say over whether and how the funds will be allocated.

Breeders’ Cup senior vice president of operations Pam Blatz-Murff said Dec. 16 she could not confirm that the decision to not fund the stakes program for 2009 had been reversed. "As you can imagine, there has been quite a bit of discussion since the suspension, but as of now it is still suspended," she said.

Members of the Breeders’ Cup board of members and trustees were upset that the decision to do away with the stakes program was made without consultation of the members and trustees. Prominent breeders had threatened not to nominate their foals to the program unless the decision to suspend funding of the stakes program was reversed. In addition, at least one member of the board of members and trustees had threatened to resign if the original decision to halt funding stood.

In a Dec. 11 memo, Blatz-Murff said the organization was projecting a reduction in overall Breeders’ Cup revenue of more than $10 million next year due to the global economic downturn and a likely shortfall in nominations revenue. It goes on to state that in order to maintain the Breeders’ Cup World Championships purses at their current level of $25.5 million, television and marketing spending will be slashed by more than $5 million. In the last two years, the Championships have expanded from one day to two, and from eight races to 14.

Previously, according to the memo, Breeders’ Cup had committed to allocating funds for 2009 races, but now those allocations are suspended.

The 2008 Breeders' Cup Stakes program featured 100 races and allocated $5 million in Breeders' Cup funds to existing stakes across the United States and Canada. For the past 13 years, Breeders' Cup and 40 racetracks and racing associations have participated jointly in the program that provides additional purse money to Breeders' Cup-nominated horses.

Total purses for the 2008 program exceeded $25 million.The Breeders’ Cup board the week of Dec. 7 unanimously decided to leave purses for the two-day Championships at their 2008 level of $25.5 million. Some critics suggested the funding for the broader stakes program should come out of purse cuts for the World Championships.

Copyright © 2008 Blood-Horse Publications. All rights reserved internationally.

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