The time is right for a Big 'Cap date change

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

March 14th, 2016

A friend of nearly two decades offered some interesting takes on Twitter this past Saturday in regards to the current status of the $1 million Santa Anita H. (G1). Enamored with and well-versed about the sport's history and best traditions as anyone I've ever met, he was raised in Los Angeles, has followed the sport for roughly 35 years and spent a couple of decades working in the industry.

Given his background, he more than anyone has a right to lament the trajectory of one of the country's most historic and significant races run in his hometown.

After a brief reprieve earlier this decade, during which the Dubai World Cup (G1) was contested on a synthetic surface, domestic stalwarts for older horses such as the "Big 'Cap" are now firmly back under the thumb (perhaps foot) of the $10 million Meydan behemoth.

With the exception of Saturday's favorite, Effinex, virtually every major older horse in serious training has its eyes on the World Cup prize. It's all completely understandable -- money talks, of course -- but also sad in its own way.

My friend humorously added to the critique in the aftermath of the race.

Being one of those that participated in said talking point about 5-2 second choice Donworth, I began to see the farcical nature of the exercise after reading this. Heck, the improving winner, Melatonin, didn't have a listed stakes win anywhere to his credit before entering the starting gate.

What followed was a brief exchange between us regarding the best path forward for the Big 'Cap. We agreed that it's time that the date of the Santa Anita H. be adjusted to not only reflect current realities, but also ensure the best quality field possible for such an important event.

Given how some horsemen are now preferring to prep for the World Cup in Dubai to give their contenders more time to acclimatize, a date switch might be all for naught some or most of the time. However, it seems the race's quality can't be maintained or enhanced in its present position 2-3 weeks before the World Cup.

A date five weeks (maybe six) before the World Cup would appear to be a good starting point. As late as 1967, three decades after the race was introduced and when Santa Anita was still running winter meets of only 55 days' duration, the Big 'Cap was still run on the last Saturday in February (the Santa Anita Derby was run very early then, too). A step back in time wouldn't seem to upset tradition that much.

Doing this would require Santa Anita to send yet another of their long-standing fixtures for older horses, probably the San Pasqual (G2) rather than the San Antonio (G2), to the scrap heap. A course of action like this would be nothing new as I (some would say clumsily) attempted to satirize last fall, and not many tears would be shed for the deceased.

I don't think that would necessarily be the case if the race in question were the Santa Anita H., an event that undoubtedly deserves a fresh infusion of life. It might not be too late to halt its slow withering.

(Benoit Photo)