The Breeders’ Cup, which has had difficulty before in determining which horses would start in its million-dollar races, ran into another controversy Wednesday, triggered by an unlikely adversary, the man who served as its president for four years.
Gibson Downing, who headed the fledgling Breeders’ Cup from 1984 through ’87, protested the exclusion of his 4-year-old colt, Cameroon, when both the Breeders’ Cup and Churchill Downs overruled the track stewards Wednesday morning and filled the last spot in the 14-horse Breeders’ Cup Turf with Saganeca, a French filly who arrived in Kentucky at about 1 a.m. Wednesday.
After a hearing that lasted more than an hour Wednesday night, the Churchill Downs stewards concurred and issued a ruling that refused the entry of Cameroon.
Before Tom Meeker, the president of Churchill Downs, and Ted Bassett, the president of the Breeders’ Cup exerted their authority Wednesday afternoon, the stewards at the track had indicated to Downing that they were going to allow his horse to be entered.
But Meeker said: “We are not allowing this horse to run because of the best interests of racing, Churchill Downs, the Breeders’ Cup and the betting public of the United States.” He cited a Kentucky racing rule that preempts what appears to be ambiguous wording in Breeders’ Cup regulations.
Under Kentucky rules, Meeker said, a track may revoke the entry of a horse “for any reason whatsoever, and without giving reason or notice.”
Neither of the horses appeared to be a threat to win the $2-million Turf. Cameroon has won four of 15 races, none of them stakes, and in one of his rare appearances against top horses, in the Arlington Handicap last August, he was 52-1 and finished 11th. However, Cameroon did set the Churchill Downs record for 1 1/16 miles on grass when he was clocked in 1:41 4/5 in an allowance race on May 8.
Saganeca lost her first 11 starts before winning a minor stake at Longchamp on Oct. 5.
After the hearing Wednesday night, Bill Rambicure, Downing’s attorney, said he would talk to Downing, who lives in Lexington, Ky., and they would consider additional action. Their first option would be to appeal the stewards’ ruling to the Kentucky State Racing Commission, and beyond that, they might seek redress in Franklin (Ky.) Circuit Court.
“We question the validity of the regulations that are being cited,” Rambicure said, “and there are constitutional arguments as well. There hasn’t been due process.”
Contacted at home Wednesday night, Downing was asked if he would continue his appeal. “Sure,” he said, “How do I stop? I don’t think there’s time for a racing board meeting, so we’re figuring on filing suit and getting an injunction in the courts, and I think we’ll win hands down. I’m not trying to upset the Pick Seven; I just feel that my horse deserves to be in the race based on the way I understand the rules.”
The Pick Seven is a new national wager by which bettors attempt to pick all seven winners of Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup races. Cup officials estimate that the Pick Seven pool alone could run between $10 million and $30 million. Meeker said Wednesday that the viability of the Pick Seven was a consideration in the ruling that eliminated Cameroon from the race.
The Breeders’ Cup rules restrict all races to 14 horses. When more than 14 are pre-entered, the first eight spots in the field are determined by a point system, based on high finishes in important races throughout the year. The other six are determined by an international panel of racing secretaries.
After pre-entry last week, there were the maximum eight horses ahead of Cameroon based on points. When Panoramic, a European colt who was eighth on the point list, dropped out, Downing assumed that Cameroon would move into his spot. But the Breeders’ Cup panel had ranked Cameroon last among all 20 of the horses that were pre-entered, an arbitrary listing. Breeders’ Cup officials said Wednesday that the point system applies only during pre-entry, that after that, all openings in the race are in the hands of the panel.
Downing, however, points to a Breeders’ Cup rule that says: “In that case (when a race is oversubscribed), eight horses will be granted starting positions based on the total number of graded stakes points they have collected during the year. The remaining six horses will be selected by the . . . panel.”
The field for the Turf now apparently consists of seven horses who qualified on points and seven picked by the panel.