Handle Down 4% on the 2018 Breeders’ Cup: Maybe NOW Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. learns the Breeders’ Cup Needs to Be At Night?

That is the question that I say is yes and have for years.

In spite of there being one additional race on the Breeders’ Cup this year as opposed to recent years (first time with 14 BC Races since 2012), handle for the Breeders’ Cup as a whole was DOWN four percent from last year (Source: The Blood-Horse).

This to me is not a surprise at all, though unlike 2015 at Keeneland, in my opinion, Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. was in a no-win situation this time, something I noted was possible in an earlier blog where I suggested before the 2019-’21 BC sites were announced the 2020 BC should be at Del Mar on Thanksgiving Weekend.  While in my view this originally should have been the first Breeders’ Cup held mainly at night, there was ONE major factor playing against that: The Mid-Term Elections that come/came up the Tuesday after the Breeders’ Cup.

This was likely a much bigger factor than MANY realize, especially given the political climate we have had in recent years, intensifying only that much more since Donald Trump was elected President in 2016.  The rhetoric has been back-and-forth, and it has caused many much more hotly contested races than we have seen leading up to what is/was considered to be the single most important mid-term elections in US History.  There are many on both sides that think this could be a life-or-death struggle, with people on both ends refusing to back down.  This has also led to a record amount of spending for a mid-term election, including many more ads than seen before, including possibly going as far (and if anyone can confirm, it would be appreciated) as to cause NBC stations (and those of other networks) where such races are close to have to preempt all or part of their prime time lineups, particularly on Friday (11/2) and Saturday (11/3), for political ad buys that would have prevented the BC from airing those two nights in prime time on NBC, normally a “death slot” for regular shows and such possibly continuing on Sunday (11/4) and Monday (11/5) where such races are extremely tight.

The mid-terms likely also had an effect on coverage of not only the Breeders’ Cup, but other sports, as such overshadowed many other events going on, even in some circles an Alabama-LSU game that was the biggest matchup between those schools since 2011 (ironically the last time the BC was at Churchill Downs and also the game that set precedents that allow networks to demand events be moved to prime time even if it violates contracts).  A nighttime BC in 2018 would have had the Saturday races opposite that game as well as Oklahoma-Texas Tech on ABC, Notre Dame-Northwestern on ESPN and UCLA-Oregon on FOX among other games.

That said, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that handle should have been UP on this year’s Breeders’ Cup, given two factors:

  1. There was one additional race in this BC as opposed to recent years.
  2. Field size was UP from a year ago, with an average of 12.6 horses per race.

The new format this year also was promising, with something many have wanted for years, and that is all of the BC races for two year olds on Friday and all of the races for older horses on Saturday.  There were some races, especially on Saturday, where handle was down considerably that was in some circles directly attributed to the early start time for the Breeders’ Cup.

So what went wrong?

First, it was the fact either Breeders’ Cup Ltd. was being willfully ignorant of the fact many people were still at work when Friday’s BC races took place or not able to run the Breeders’ Cup races at night due to what was noted above, especially with the political situation being what it is.  Regardless, while Friday handle was solid at $52,000,000 or so, having the BC Races from 7:30-11:00 PM Eastern Time (with most likely a 5:30 PM first post), it likely would have been at least $10 Million higher if it had been at night, after work for most people, even if there would have been complaints from those older about the races running to 11:00 PM on the East Coast.  What many who complain fail to take into account is while some can take Friday off for the Breeders’ Cup events, especially after Labor Day, most can’t do that other than “Black Friday” (day after Thanksgiving) and maybe the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s (plus January 2 in years New Year’s Day is a Thursday).  This is especially true on Wall Street, and even more so when BC Friday also is the day the unemployment number for the previous month comes out.  That forces many on Wall Street to be at their desks all day for trading, especially at brokerage firms that deal with clients who are from outside the US that expect people at be at their desks during business hours and in many cases even during after-hours trading.

Second, having all the Breeders’ Cup Races on Saturday in the afternoon as proven this year and also in 2015 can have a major negative impact on handle.  The early start of the program at 10:45 AM and first BC Race at Noon Eastern Time is when many, especially those who are out at the clubs until 3:00-4:00 AM locally or later are either just getting up for the day or are still asleep, especially those who think nothing of blowing $500-1,000 a night at the clubs, particularly in New York (you can see this almost every Friday and Saturday night in particular).  Add to that Hong Kong likely unable to take any BC races because they occur in the overnight hours there and it is a recipe for a handle drop.  Several races, especially early saw handle drop in some cases sharply (including the BC Sprint, reportedly DOWN 18% year-to-year in spite of only having one less horse in it).

Third, and I seem to be one of the few with this opinion inside the sport, is something I have repeatedly noted in these posts: The fact we have a generation outside of those who actually care about the sport that has the mentality that any sport for it to be taken seriously by them must have their championship events at night, running to at least 11:00 PM on the east coast.  This mentality has been ingrained in most of them since birth, as going that late has mostly been the case with ALL of the “Big 4” sports in the US (Baseball, American Football, Basketball and Hockey) since 1991 starting every such championship game after 6:00 PM Eastern Time and except for the Super Bowl, usually after 7:00 PM ET and more often than not after 8:00 PM ET.   That is something many within the Sport of Kings refuse to acknowledge as well as refuse to acknowledge the changes in our society as a whole, where many consider the daytime hours to be mainly for work and doing certain other activities that can realistically only be done in the daytime while nighttime is for championship events. While in a perfect world, having the BC Races in the daytime is the way it should be, the reality is, we live in a much different society and playing under much different rules than when John Gaines first envisioned the Breeders’ Cup in 1982, which was conceived back when Horse Racing regularly had time slots for telecasts in the fall in the days when the NCAA had a monopoly on College Football broadcasts, often restricting teams to a handful of appearances each year.  The Supreme Court’s 1984 ruling that made that monopoly illegal is why we have seen Saturdays become wall-to-wall college football from Noon until after 2:00 AM Sunday morning in the east most weekends in the fall, something Mr. Gaines could never have envisioned back when the BC was first conceived.

The sheer number of games on TV have just since 2006 (when ESPN first televised the Breeders’ Cup) exploded to where college football is now the 600-pound junior gorilla of sports (while the NFL continues to be the 800-pound gorilla).  The sheer number of games being in the daytime also plays into why the World Series, an event many have for years been clamoring for to return to weekend day games still has Saturday games start after 8:00 PM Eastern Time.  Even opposite the football games noted previously in this,  the Breeders’ Cup still likely would have been NBC’s best shot at a decent television rating on Saturday night given how live sports is the only thing that has done well on Saturday night in recent years (as well as in this case, Friday for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile), with the telecasts likely Friday on NBCSN from 7:30-10:00 PM ET and NBC from 10:00-11:00 PM ET and Saturday entirely on NBC from 4:30-11:00 PM Eastern Time.  That likely brings in many 18-49 who don’t care about college football (or football at all), likely giving the BC much more credibility as a championship event than it has now.

Will Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. learn its lesson this time?  This year, there were non-sports factors in play so it would not have mattered, nevertheless, this year showed why eventually the Breeders’ Cup either needs to be at night, or as I suggested in my last blog, going back to a single-day event that can be done as a 14-race marathon that splits BC day into two parts: Part One in the daytime featuring all of the two-year-old races plus the Dirt Mile, and the sprint and grass races for females with the first Breeders’ Cup Race at 1:10 PM and the Juvenile at 5:45 PM and Part Two at night following a break with the Turf Sprint, Sprint, Mile (Turf), Distaff, Turf and Classic, that portion starting at 7:10 PM with the final BC Race (the Classic) at 10:40 PM ET.  That to me would be a best-of-both worlds scenario: Giving traditionalists what they want in the daytime while the “championship portion” would be at night and to me might be the compromise to keep traditionalists happy while also demonstrating to Millennials that the sport is to be taken seriously with the championship portion at night.

Traditionalists can complain all they want about the prospect of a nighttime BC “running” the experience for them, but the problem is this sport needs to realize the next generation that will replace those who have (or will) pass(ed) away is NOT like earlier generations: They have repeatedly demonstrated over the past two decades they want things when they want them and in that regard are much more demanding than any previous generations have been in that regard.  To these generations, time of day has repeatedly proven to matter way more than most people realize, even if they don’t come out and actually that.  There is an old saying that actions speak louder than words, and their actions have repeatedly shown that BC Ltd. is NOT listening to the newer generations that think every championship event must be at night or the sport doesn’t hit their radars at all.

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How The Breeders’ Cup can return to being a single-day event in 2022

As (when this was written), this is the week of the Breeders’ Cup, there has once again been the usual musing that the entire Breeders’ Cup should be all in one day, especially on Twitter. While it does seem a bit unrealistic for some tracks to do so, especially if ANY track hosting the Breeders’ Cup was required to have lights would be easier to do as a day-into-night marathon that would not start early in the day and hamper wagering on the west coast.

If all 14 BC Races were in one day, here’s how I would do it with a 1:10 PM ET start (all times listed here are Eastern (New York) Time):
BC Juvenile Turf Sprint — 1:10 PM
BC Dirt Mile — 1:45 PM
BC Juvenile Fillies Turf — 2:25 PM
BC Juvenile Fillies — 3:05 PM
BC Juvenile Turf — 3:45 PM
BC Filly & Mare Sprint — 4:25 PM
BC Filly & Mare Turf — 5:05 PM
BC Juvenile — 5:50 PM
BC Turf Sprint — 7:10 PM
BC Sprint — 7:55 PM
BC Mile — 8:35 PM
BC Distaff — 9:10 PM
BC Turf — 9:55 PM
BC Classic — 10:40 PM

The lengthy gap between the Juvenile and Turf Sprint is for more time for Pick-Six wagering as well as a dinner break for people at the event and for NBC stations to air local and NBC news from 6:00-7:00 PM ET (if the entire BC is on NBC). It essentially makes the Juvenile and Filly and Mare Turf the features of the daytime portion of the BC with (other than the Turf Sprint) the main BC events otherwise in the nighttime portion.  BC could actually offer two pick-six wagers in this format, one during the daytime portion of the card and another on the six races at night (with a carryover to the night portion if no one hits the pick-six in the daytime portion).

This format would eliminate the Friday problem as many people have to work on Fridays while the BC races are going on while at the same time create a best-of-both-worlds scenario for the sport: The majority of the BC races in the daytime to appease traditionalists (hence the Juvenile races & Filly-Mare Turf all in the daytime) while the main BC races (plus the Turf Sprint) are in the nighttime (“championship”) portion, which appeases Millennials who have repeatedly proven with their actions (that speak louder than any words) that ALL Championship Events MUST be at night or such events don’t matter. That mentality stems from the fact that every single championship game in the “Big 4” Sports (pro and college) in the US (Baseball, Football, Basketball and Hockey) has been at night dating back to Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the last such contested in the afternoon in ANY of the “Big 4” in the US. It to me would be a compromise that appeases those who want the BC back to a single-day event like it once was while also giving the sport more credibility with the more casual fan who has had it ingrained in them that championship events are those only contested at night.

The earliest in all likelihood this could be tried is 2022 unless Del Mar (the 2021 hosts) agreed to install lights and host it as a single day event as in my view, the run-up to the 2020 Presidential Elections that in the eyes of many will start as soon as the Mid-Term elections have taken place this week, coupled with plans likely already in place for 2019-’21 will make it impossible to attempt before then. With many pining for a return to a one-day Breeders’ Cup, it may be time to seriously look at this.

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Time for NYRA to return the Coaching Club American Oaks to its former status of “America’s only Classic Race for fillies”

Memo to NYRA:

Why does the Test Stakes (being run the Saturday after this writing at Saratoga) at $500,000 carry a higher purse than the Coaching Club American Oaks at $300,000?  Yes, the latter this year did bring in the Oaks winner (Monomony Girl), but I once again think it’s time to do a MAJOR overhaul of the three year old filly stakes schedule that returns the CCA Oaks to its former status of America’s only Classic race for fillies by doing the following (NOTE: The Alabama is NOT changed in all of this):

  1. As noted in an earlier blog where I said it was possibly time to move the Belmont Stakes from Saturday to Sunday (a view that was overwhelmingly disliked, especially by traditionalists who don’t understand how the more casual fan sees things), I would move the CCA Oaks back to Belmont Park and return it to its former distance of 1 ½ Miles for the same $1.5 Million their male counterparts run for in The Belmont Stakes and if necessary have bonuses in place to encourage horsemen to run their top fillies in that race. I would also as noted in that earlier blog be working with Churchill Downs, Inc. and The Stronach Group to make the Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan and CCA Oaks an official Triple Tiara for Fillies with as part of it the other two legs also lengthened so the fillies run the same distances as their male counterparts.  From there, there would be a major overhaul of the three year old filly stakes schedule at NYRA, moving around numerous other stakes like this.
  2. The Acorn, presently on Belmont Stakes Day, could be moved either to March and become the first Grade 1 race of the year in New York, run on the same program as the Gotham OR be lengthened to 1 1/8 Miles and run on the same program as the Wood Memorial in April.
  3. The Mother Goose, presently run in late June where it currently is languishing, could also be moved to a March/April spot, presumably whichever is NOT occupied by the Acorn.
  4. The Gazelle, currently run on the Wood Memorial program in April, could be moved either to the CCA Oaks’s current spot on the opening Sunday of Saratoga OR returned to its former spot at the beginning of the Belmont Park fall meet in early September, possibly with the CCA Oaks not replaced on that opening weekend or being replaced by the Test, which USED to be the main prep for the Alabama (even at seven-eighths of a mile).
  5. The Test could be moved up to be the opening Sunday feature at Saratoga (and not replaced on Whitney Day). Back when the Saratoga meet was first expanded to 30 days in 1991, the Test was the feature the opening Saturday.

The idea would be in this format, the CCA Oaks is the feature the day before the Belmont Stakes.  If that had to be done on Friday (so the Belmont stayed on Saturday), perhaps that could be done where that card runs late and the CCA Oaks is the finale with such going off after 7:30 PM Eastern Time (since so many are against my earlier idea of moving The Belmont to Sunday).  An alternative would be to have the CCA Oaks the weekend after The Belmont Stakes, but there it would likely have to be on Sunday to avoid a conflict with the Stephen Foster at Churchill, which has occupied the Saturday after the Belmont slot as a major race for older horses for 20+ years.

As for how to get the $1.5 Million purse:

  1. There is no need for the Met Mile and Whitney to each carry a $1.2 Million purse. I would cut both to $1 Million and add that to the CCA Oaks purse.  Right there, that increases it to $700,000.
  2. Next is the Acorn. That can be cut to $500,000 to make the CCA Oaks purse $900,000.
  3. Then there is the Jim Dandy. There is no need for that to be a $600,000 purse, as NYRA likely gets the same field for that race whether it is worth $350,000 or $600,000 given the Haskell is the next day and those looking to go in the Jim Dandy are really looking for a race over the track for the Travers.  That brings the CCA Oaks to $1.15 Million.
  4. The remaining $350,000 to bring the CCA Oaks to $1.5 Million would come from cutting the Belmont Park Derby to $1 Million and Belmont Park Oaks to $850,000. Those races would get the same fields for those purses.

To me, this would be money better distributed into returning the CCA Oaks to its former prominence as the most important race in the sport for fillies and running it most likely the day before the Belmont Stakes and possibly making it the final leg of an official Triple Tiara with the Kentucky Oaks and Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.  I suspect a CCA Oaks at 1 ½ Miles for $1.5 Million would be attractive to European trainers who have fillies who can run on dirt and need more ground than races in Europe often have for fillies.

This to me I think would long-term really help the sport to have a real “Test of The Champion” for fillies as well as an official Triple Tiara for fillies.  This likely would help in brining in casual fans who might see there is more to the sport than just the Triple Crown races.

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Should The 2020 Breeders’ Cup be on Thanksgiving Weekend?

While this time of the year will be mainly about Saratoga and Del Mar as it should be, the Breeders’ Cup this year is not too far away and it may not be too early of what to do with that BC.

While many know Frank Stronach wants Laurel to host a BC, would 2020 by the right year to do it there?  This has nothing to do with whether or not a track has lights to host the Breeders’ Cup, but a factor that even a couple of months ago when I wrote a blog slamming Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. for not making the 2018 BC at Churchill Downs a nighttime event myself and most others could never have considered: Politics, and not of the Horse Racing variety.

It may turn out BC Ltd. was right in going with a daytime BC at Churchill in 2018 when all signs should had pointed to this being the first Breeders’ Cup to be entirely at night for a variety of reasons, and that being the fact you do not want the first full nighttime Breeders’ Cup being overshadowed by what is going to turn out to be the most costly and most talked-about mid-term elections ever that take place the Tuesday after that BC.

When Churchill was awarded the 2018 BC, I felt it would be the first of several BCs in a row at Churchill for one reason: Lights that allow Churchill to race at night.  Given the potential for new handle from the Asia-Pacific region coupled with many Millennials (those born after 1980) conditioned to believe championship events MUST be at night to matter or they are not relevant, that is still long-term in my view the direction that is going to be needed to be taken with the Breeders’ Cup.  That is even more true if China gets into simulcasting the Breeders’ Cup down the road with all of their population and the fact Asians have repeatedly over a long period of time shown they will bet more than most in many situations (which might also mean the BC will have to run until Midnight Eastern Time so the BC Classic goes off in China around 11:30 AM the next day in Beijing for example).  Of course, at the time Churchill was awarded this year’s Breeders’ Cup, very few people other than those loyal could have realistically anticipated Donald Trump actually being elected President and all of the angst and political back-and-forths that have played out since then.  That has made this year’s mid-terms arguably the most important such ever, and it looks like this year’s Breeders’ Cup will suffer getting attention (regardless of whether or not Justify did try to end his career on a winning note in the Classic) not just because of sports that normally take place that weekend, but because of people being inundated with political ads and news in the days leading up to Election Day on November 6, three days after the BC.  This could easily include a massive amount of political time-buys on television that could pre-empt or delay a lot of programming on local TV stations then in a way that has never been seen before, making it much more difficult to have the BC in prime time this year because NBC affiliates will likely be among those in this situation.

This is where I’m thinking in 2020, we could be facing this very problem much worse, as it will be a Presidential election year with Donald Trump almost certainly looking to be re-elected and the Democrats going far more all-out than they did in 2016 and even more than just in this year’s mid-term Elections.  With so much at stake, we could see the 2020 Election overshadow almost everything else, especially in the days immediately preceding such an Election.  With that in mind, in my view Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. needs to take a serious look at giving the 2020 Breeders’ Cup to Del Mar with that BC taking place on Thanksgiving weekend, which in 2020 would be November 26-28, which would get it away from the Presidental Election.  With the BC in that scenario on Thanksgiving weekend, the Breeders’ Cup could be expanded from two days to three, with it very possibly having the entire BC on NBC that weekend in this matter:

Thursday (live everywhere 3:00-6:00 PM ET after the National Dog Show and Macy’s Thankgiving Day Parade that also would air everywhere at the same time): BC Juvenile Turf, Juvenile Fillies Turf, Juvenile Turf Sprint and Juvenile Fillies.

Friday (4:00-8:00 PM ET): BC Dirt Mile, Juvenile, Filly & Mare Sprint, Turf Sprint and Filly & Mare Turf.

Saturday (4:00-8:00 PM ET): BC Mile, Distaff, Sprint, Turf and Classic

This is the one weekend BC Ltd. can get away with the BC over three days (instead of two) and do it when almost everyone is off from work.  While obviously people in retail have to work “Black Friday,” for most people it’s late enough in the day where even if they do have to work, the BC events are after work and most outside of retail even if they do work on “Black Friday” only work a half-day at most.

There obviously would be some major ripple effects to the BC being pushed back 3-4 weeks, mainly it affects many tracks who have big events on Thanksgiving weekend as well as the international calendar, as it might force some major events in Asia (most notably the Japan Cup) to have to be moved up or pushed back.  That however, to me is minor as it would have the championship event on a weekend many are off to begin with and on arguably with Millennials the only weekend all year where having major events in the daytime is NOT a turnoff like it is with many of them otherwise.  A side benefit is many tracks that have been in recent years forced to bunch up their major events into “festivals” can now have such events more spread out and not all at the same time.  Woodbine would also be a major beneficiary of this because the Canadian International and E.P. Taylor suddenly once again become major prep races for the BC Turf and Filly & Mare Turf respectively for example because of their being contested in late October.

2020 may very well be the time to put the Breeders Cup on its latest date ever, and the first time since 1987 at Hollywood Park it would be contested in the second half of November (as well as the first time ever at Thanksgiving).  Doing so has it well enough after the Presidential Election where such will have died down and allow the BC to have more of the spotlight it otherwise would (along with virtually all other sports in the US) lose because of the 2020 Election probably being the most talked about ever.

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Time to Get Rid of Penalty Kicks In The World Cup? How It Can Be Done

Another World Cup, another elimination round with Penalty Kicks.

This was written shortly after Russia defeated Spain on Penalty Kicks after 120 minutes of play yielded a 1-1 tie.  While some love it, penalty kicks leaves a bitter taste in the eyes of many, especially US viewers FIFA and MLS covet and can be a turn-off for more casual sports fans in the US who want to see the game end on something other than something that otherwise is only used a handful of times if at all in a game.

While the NHL does conclude regular season games that go through an overtime period (of five minutes of three-on-three) in a similar manner with penalty shots, once the playoffs begin, playoff games go as long as needed until a goal is scored, whether its five seconds or five full overtime periods.  There is a reason real hockey fans note there is Hockey and then there is Playoff Hockey, which is a completely different animal.  The NFL, the 800-pound gorilla of sports in the US is no different.  While regular season games can end in a tie if tied after 10 minutes of overtime, in the playoffs, other than making sure each team gets one possession excluding when the team going first gets a touchdown, games go as long as needed until there is a score.  Same with Baseball, where in the US Major Leagues games go as many innings as necessary to determine a winner if tied after nine innings (in the Minor Leagues, seven innings if part of a doubleheader).  Few people really want to see games come down to something other than the normal playing of the game.

With that in mind, there is a way Soccer (Football outside North America) can adapt to what most US viewers want to see without it becoming too much of a danger if “The Beautiful Game” goes extremely long.  Here’s how I would do overtime in the World Cup as well as other major championships (CONCACAF, EURO, etc.):

The first overtime (30 Minutes, split into two, 15-minute halves) would play out as it does now with no “Golden Goal,” something that has in the past been used in the World Cup (“Golden Goal” was when such games ended in sudden death).  All current rules would remain in place.  It is after that which I would change, getting away from penalty kicks that can be a turnoff to more casual fans, especially in the US:

If after 120 minutes the score is tied, the game continues with 20-minute periods, ending when the “Golden Goal” is scored.  There would be a 15-minute intermission after each such 20-minute period that is necessary ends without a “Golden Goal.”  There would also be changes in the number of players on the fields and substitutions starting with a second overtime period, as follows:

2nd Overtime: If after 120 minutes the score is tied, the number of players on the field is reduced to 10-on-10 (though if a team was already playing with an 11-on-10 advantage due to red cards, the game would continue as such).  One additional substitution would be allowed at this point, and players who had previously come out of the game would be permitted to re-enter at this point, with any yellow and red card picked up after the 120th minute of a match applicable to that match ONLY and not applicable to any subsequent matches.  Any player(s) who had been suspended for the match due to red cards can enter the match at this point without penalty. Also, any player who comes out due to a reduction in players on the field can re-enter at any time without that counting against the substitution limits.

3rd Overtime: If after 140 minutes the score is tied, the number of players on the field is reduced to 9-on-9 (though if a team was already playing with an 11-on-9 or 10-on-9 advantage due to red cards, the game would continue as such).  Each team would be allowed two additional substitutions at this point along with any player removed due to player reduction allowed to re-enter without such counting against substitution limits.

4th Overtime: If after 160 minutes the score is tied, the number of players on the field is reduced to 8-on-8 (plus any advantages a side had due to red cards).  Each team would be allowed three additional substitutions at this point along with any player removed due to player reduction allowed to re-enter without such counting against substitution limits.

5th Overtime: If after 180 minutes the score is tied, the number of players on the field is reduced to 7-on-7 (plus any advantages a side had due to red cards).  Each team would be allowed four additional substitutions at this point along with any player removed due to player reduction allowed to re-enter without such counting against substitution limits.

6th Overtime and beyond: If after 200 minutes the score is tied, the number of players on the field is reduced to 6-on-6 (plus any advantages a side had due to red cards) and would remain such from this point going forward (though if a player is ejected due to a red card at this point or later, the substitution/player advantage would be dictated by how many players are actually on the field for each side at that point, with if it were 6-on-6 the other team allowed to add a player to make it 7-on-6 for example).  Each team would have unlimited substitutions at this point and able to bring players in freely until the “Golden Goal” is scored, with a break after each 20 minutes of play.

The reduction in players after each overtime would be designed to make it easier to score with fewer players on the field.  The additional substitution would also show how deep a team’s bench really is, as a team with a deeper bench would have a bigger advantage the longer a game goes.  This to me is the way World Cup games in particular should be decided.

 

 

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Time for Major League Baseball to add a third Wild Card to each league (and create a Wild Card Tournament similar to the College World Series format)?

This to me is a no-brainer:

When Major League Baseball added a second wild card, what it did do was provide additional incentive to win your division to avoid having to play in a one-game playoff ahead of the Division Series.  While this did provide an additional team a chance to make the postseason, what it did not do, however, is make it so a team that happens to win a weak division has to do anything extra other than start the Division Series on the road.

These were the Major League Baseball Standings as of games completed on September 30, 2018, the last day of the regular season (x-Clinched Division, y-clinched Wild Card, z-Clinched Playoff Berth, w- would have been third Wild Card):

American League
AL
        W         L          GB
East
x-BOS    108        54         —
y-NYY     100        62        8.0
w-TB        90        72        18.0
TOR     73        89        35.0
BAL      47        115        61.0

Central
x-CLE      91        71        —
MIN      78        84        13.0
DET      64        98        27.0
CHW    62        100        29.0
KC        58        104        39.0

West
x-HOU     103        59        —
y-OAK     97        65        6.0
SEA      89        73        15.0
LAA      80        82        23.0
TEX      67        95        36.0

National League
NL
       W         L          GB
East
x-ATL      90        72        —
WSH    82        80        8.0
PHI      80        82        10.0
NYM     77        85        13.0
MIA      63        98        26.5

Central
z-CHC     95        67        —
z-MIL      95        67       —
w-STL      88        74        7.0
PIT       82        79        12.5
CIN      67        95        28.0

West
z-LAD     91        71        —
z-COL     91        71        —
ARI      82        80        9.0
SF        73        89        18.0
SD       66        96        25.0

What is notable here is the fact the Indians in the American League, while comfortably ahead have a worse record than the teams that would be the two wild cards (Yankees and A’s).  Meanwhile, in the National League, for the first time ever there are two one-game playoffs to decide divisions on the same day.

To me, it’s time to add a third wild card in each league to the postseason while would make it so if say the Indians had a comfortable lead in their division but were in a dogfight with the other two division leaders (Red Sox and Astros in this case) could not just rest on their laurels of winning the AL Central.  In this format, the team with the worst record of the division champions would be lumped in with the Wild Cards while only the two best division winners avoid the Wild Card round, with such a division winner seeded behind any wild card team that has a better record than such division winner.  If seeding were done this way, the seeds would be like this (again, this is as of games of September 29, 2018):

American League National League
1. x-Red Sox (108-54) 1. Cubs/Brewers (95-67)
2. x-Astros (103-59) 2.** Dodgers/Rockies (91-71)
3. y-Yankees (100-62) 3. Cubs/Brewers (95-67)
4. y-A’s (97-65) 4.** Dodgers/Rockies (91-71)
5.* x-Indians (91-71) 5. Braves (90-72)
6.* Rays (90-72) 6. Cardinals (88-74)

*-Even if the Indians and Rays finished tied record-wise, the Indians would be seeded ahead of the Rays because they are a division champion, which ONLY comes into play for byes or there is a tie for seeding in the Wild Card round.

**– After the last day, the Dodgers and Rockies finished tied for the #2 seed (first place in the NL West) as the Braves lost their final game of the regular season and in this format would be locked in as the #5 seed since the loser of the one-game playoff in the NL Central (Brewers or Cubs) would be seeded third AND the loser of the NL West one-game playoff (Dodgers or Rockies) would be seeded fourth based on better records than the Braves.

In this format, the Yankees and A’s in the AL are seeded ahead of the Indians because they have a better record while the NL Central loser (Brewers or Cubs) have a better record than team that loses the tie-breakers for the #2 seed (Dodgers or Rockies) and the Braves, again locked into the #5 seed in this format as the team with the worst record of the Division Champions.  While the Brewers are behind the team that wins the tie-breaker for the #2 seed (due to the fact whoever does would have the second best record of the Division leaders), because the NL Central loser (Brewers or Cubs) have a better record, if they met in the Division Series, the NL Central loser (Brewers or Cubs) would have home field on account of a better record.

Another thing I would do is eliminate the single-game wild card playoff and replace it with a four-team, double-elimination tournament that would have the three wild cards and team with the worst record of the division champions involved that determines the two teams that would join the two best division winners in the Division Series round.  It would be done as five games over two days, with whoever is seeded third in each league serving as the hosts for the tournament in the following manner (with in all games in such a tournament, the higher seed serving as the home team for game purposes):

Day 1:

Games 1 & 2: 6 at 3 and 5 vs. 4.  This in the AL would be Rays at Yankees and Indians vs A’s (A’s would be the home team for game purposes).  In the NL this would be Cardinals at Brewers or Cubs and the losers of the three-way battle between the Braves, Dodgers or Rockies (home team for game purposes would be determined by the outcome of games Sunday and Monday and if necessary Tuesday).  The host team in each case would determine the order of the games played with the games most likely at 1:30 and 6:00 PM local time on day one as there would be three games the next day with the Day 1 losers having to come back in late morning for an elimination game the next day.

Day 2:

Game 3: Elimination game between Day 1 losers, most likely at 11:00 AM local time.
(loser of game goes home, winner stays alive)

Game 4: Winners Bracket game between Day 1 winners, most likely at 3:30 PM local time.
(winner of game goes to Division Series round, loser stays alive)

Game 5: Winner of Game 3 plays loser of Game 4 for final Division Series spot, most likely at 8:00 PM local time.

This has a bit of a College World Series feel to it, but it would make for a more fair and more exciting two days of baseball in each league leading into the Division Series round, with the teams who avoid this having a major advantage since they would be resting while the teams making the Division Series round will have had to play two and possibly three additional games (including possibly two games in one day) before taking on one of the two best division winners.  This also makes it more likely the better teams make it to the World Series as a rule while a third wild card often will keep more teams alive farther into the season, creating many more meaningful games in September, especially in years where the #2 seed (and the second bye that comes with it) comes into play with division winners battling to stay out of the Wild Card tournament.

Doing it this way not only puts the emphasis on winning your division, but doing so with one of the two best records in of such in each league while if not in that position playing for the third best record and getting to host a two-day Wild Card round tournament that comes with it.  It also discourages teams that are handily winning a weak division from standing pat knowing doing so puts them in the Wild Card tournament and not even hosting such a round.

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Time to Move The Belmont Stakes to Sunday?

That is a question I have asked before in other places.

2014 marked the first time in eight years that there was racing the day after The Belmont Stakes after not having such from 2007-’13.  Part of that I believe was besides the handle that day, politics were a big part of it, in particular for people who can’t go on Saturday due to mainly the Jewish Sabbath who would be able to go on Sunday (parts of Brooklyn have between them the largest population of Orthodox Jews in the world outside of Israel).  The card that day after the Belmont went on in spite of there being huge piles of trash all over the places that had yet to be cleaned out from Belmont Stakes Day.  While there was a time when The New York Racing Association not only raced the Sunday, but also the Monday after The Belmont Stakes (in the days of six-day-a-week racing), that was before all of the security concerns and other things and the crowds we have on Belmont Stakes day now and Belmont Day itself if you include the post-race concert afterwards now runs well into Saturday night.

This led me to think then and even more so now: Especially with what happens Triple Crown chance or not on Belmont Stakes Day and given NYRA is likely under both business and political pressure to race that Sunday as usual, I (again) say it’s time to move The Belmont Stakes from Saturday to Sunday.  Many traditionalists won’t like it and some who travel in for The Belmont might not like having to stay through Sunday into the start of a new workweek in many cases, but making The Belmont a Sunday race would eliminate the need for having a program the day after (as Monday is a normal dark day now except for Saratoga and certain holidays) as there would not likely be the same pressure to do that as there is now.  While there is the threat of having an NBA Finals game tip not too long after The Belmont Stakes in that scenario, that is no longer as much the case given except in a limited number of situations, the NBA and NHL both like to give teams two days off between games in their respective Finals, especially if there is a travel day involved.  In 2018, had The Belmont Stakes been on Sunday instead of Saturday, it would have potentially been a lead-in for NBC to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals assuming that series got to that point, something NBC actually had done in recent years with Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals when that was on the Saturday of The Belmont Stakes.  In addition, it gives those who can’t come on Saturday for religious reasons the chance to do so for a Sunday Belmont Stakes.  It would be the first time Orthodox Jews would ever have a chance to see a Triple Crown race in person, something that I think is overlooked by many.

Moving The Belmont Stakes to Sunday also has other advantages that more than offset those for whom it may be more difficult to go because of not being able to as easily take the Monday after The Belmont off as opposed to the Thursday and Friday before: The weekend can truly become TWO big days of racing and the stakes festival can actually be expanded to four days: Thursday and Friday can be normal days with a stakes or three added to such while Saturday can become a true “Ladies Day” with ALL races on Saturday for fillies and mares or simply fillies.  This would including swapping out the Acorn for the Coaching Club American Oaks, returning what used to be the most important race in the sport (and what used to be America’s only Classic race) for fillies back to its former status as I would also return the CCA Oaks to its former distance of 1 ½ miles for the same $1.5 Million purse the boys run for in The Belmont Stakes (also possibly working with Churchill Downs and Maryland Racing officials to make the Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan and CCA Oaks an official Triple Tiara for Fillies with all three races one day before those for their male counterparts).   This also would be part of a further overhaul of the NYRA stakes schedule with some stakes currently on Belmont Day moved to other points on the schedule, including most notably returning The Metropolitan Handicap to its traditional Memorial Day spot (that many real fans have been clamoring for) and The Brooklyn to the final Saturday of the Spring meeting at Belmont Park while moving the Suburban to 3-4 weeks before the Brooklyn depending on the calendar to revive the old New York Handicap Triple Crown with all three of those races worth $1 Million each (and a bonus for sweeping the three races and additional bonus money for horses who race in all three).   The Met Mile can be replaced by the Nassau County Handicap for older horses that used to actually be run as part of Belmont Stakes Day (the last time that incarnation of the race was run in 1993 was actually a Grade 1 and is not be confused with another race of the same name for three year old fillies that was did become a Grade 2 before being discontinued) while the Brooklyn can be replaced on Belmont Days by a revival of The Gallant Fox, which I would bring back in this scenario as a 1 ¾ Mile event that would start at the top of the stretch.

This would be the proposed stakes schedule for a four-day version of The Belmont Stakes Festival, running Thursday through Sunday:

Thursday:

Wonder Again (Grade 3, $200,000) 3YOF 1 1/4 Miles on Turf (increased in distance, part of special four-day Pick Four wager with Penine Ridge, Coaching Club American Oaks and Belmont Stakes)

Astarita ($150,000) 2YOF 7 Furlongs on Turf (revival of stake last run in 2005 as a grass race, two year olds in Europe are already racing that long on grass).

Astoria ($150,000) 2YOF 5 ½ Furlongs (no change from 2017)

 

Friday:

Penine Ridge (Grade 3, $200,000) 3YO 1 1/4 Miles on Turf (moved from Saturday before Belmont and increased in distance, part of special three-day Pick Three wager with Coaching Club American Oaks and Belmont Stakes)

Cowdin ($150,000) 2YO 7 Furlongs on Turf (revival of race last run in 2005, returning as a grass race)

Tremont ($150,000) 2YO 5 ½ Furlongs

 

Saturday:

Coaching Club American Oaks (Grade 1, $1,500,000) 3YOF 1 ½ Miles (moved from Saratoga and returned to its former distance with the Acorn moved to most likely the Wood Memorial program in April, the Mother Goose replacing the CCA Oaks at Saratoga and the Gazelle either moved up to March or returned to its former spot of opening weekend of the Belmont Park fall season in September)

Jersey Girl ($150,000) 3YOF 6 Furlongs (moved from day after The Belmont Stakes)

Rare Perfume ($150,000) 3YOF 1 1/16 Miles (revival of race last run in 1990 and increased in distance from that time)

Ruffian (Grade 2, $250,000) F&M 3+ 1 1/16 Miles (increased in distance and replacing the Odgen Phipps, which moves in this to most likely late June to be a female counterpart to the Suburban)

Bed o’Roses (Grade 3, $250,000) F&M 3+ 6F (shortened in distance)

Just A Game (Grade 1, $700,000) F&M 3+ 1 Mile on Turf

New York (Grade 2, $600,000) F&M 3+ 1 ½ Miles on Turf (increased in distance)

Belmont Coronation ($200,000) F&M 4+ 2 Miles on Turf (last run in 2016 and increased in distance from then)

Ladies Handicap ($250,000) F&M 3+ 1 ¾ Miles (moved from earlier in the year and increased to a distance more fitting for the oldest stakes event in the sport for females)

New Stake (unnamed for now, $150,000) F&M 3+ 6 Furlongs on Turf

 

Sunday:

Belmont Stakes (Grade 1, $1,500,000) 3YO 1 ½ Miles

Easy Goer ($150,000) 3YO 1 1/16 Miles

Woody Stephens (Grade 2, $400,000) 3YO 7 Furlongs

True North (Grade 2, $250,000) 3+ 6 Furlongs

Jaipur (Grade 2, $400,000) 3+ 6 Furlongs on Turf

Poker (Grade 3, $300,000) 3+ 1 Mile on Turf (moved from week after The Belmont Stakes)

Sword Dancer (Grade 1, $1,000,000) 3+ 1 ½ Miles on Turf (moved from Travers Day at Saratoga as part of a swap that moves The Manhattan to the week between the Derby and Preakness in May and the Man o’War back to its former spot on opening weekend of the fall meet at Belmont with the Sword Dancer no longer having to compete with the Arlington Million for Horses).

Belmont Gold Cup (Grade 2, $400,000) 3+ 2 Miles on Turf (moved from the day before The Belmont Stakes)

Nassau County Handicap ($300,000) 3+ 1 1/8 Miles (last run in 1993 as a Grade 1)

Gallant Fox ($300,000) 3+ 1 ¾ Miles (last run in 2009, increased in distance and replacing the Brooklyn, which would be moved to the final Saturday of the spring meet at Belmont Park.

This might not be quite the monster card Belmont Stakes day is, but basically in this format you would have 10 stakes (including the CCA Oaks on Saturday and Belmont on Sunday) on TWO days in this while NYRA also is able to create a few more big days on other days during the year.   Such days would still attract lots of horses for all of the stakes (26 in all!) over the four-day stretch this would encompass as owners likely will want to have horses in races on these days.  At the same time, it creates a second big day for NYRA they can likely package with The Belmont Stakes for people looking to attend Belmont Stakes day and as noted allow those unable to be at Belmont on Saturday for religious reasons to be there and in most cases see a Triple Crown race in person for the first time in their lives.

I suspect NBC would love having the Belmont Stakes on a Sunday with most likely on Sunday such having a 7:00 PM or so post time to lead directly into prime time that night (plus the Belmont Stakes itself qualifying for normal prime time since on Sundays prime time begins at 7:00 PM Eastern Time rather than 8:00 PM ET).   It might also lead NBC to have telecasts on Saturday and Sunday since the CCA Oaks could headline a two-hour Saturday broadcast on NBC from 4:00-6:00 PM or 5:00-7:00 PM ET in addition to The Belmont on Sunday most likely airing from 4:00-7:30 or 8:00 PM ET (depending on when Belmont Stakes post time would be).

This is a move to me that should have been done a few years ago.  It would eliminate the headache of having to run a racing program the day after The Belmont Stakes while at the same time as noted creating a second really big day of racing that can stand out on its own.  As I would do such:

Thursday and Friday: 8 or 9 races with first post at 3:00 PM both days.

Saturday (CCA Oaks Day): 13 Races with first post at Noon or 12:30 PM

Sunday (Belmont Day): 13 Races with first post at 11:35 AM

The early start on Sunday might be of concern to some but I think would be acceptable.  It just seems time to make the move of The Belmont Stakes to Sunday, traditionalists be dammed.

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