The Breeders’ Cup World Championships is to Thoroughbred racing what the Super Bowl is to football and what the World Series is to baseball—a year-end championship that transcends the sport. Casual fans suddenly have rooting interests, out-of-towners travel for the showdown and everyone seems to know at least a little something about the extravaganza.
Designed to be hosted by different tracks, the Breeders’ Cup rolls into Keeneland on Oct. 30 and 31 for the first time since its inaugural edition in 1984. The Lexington track has been undergoing massive renovations that include luxury accommodations in temporary structures known as chalets. With attendance capped at 45,000, tickets to the Saturday Breeders’ Cup races are sold out while some could still remain for Friday. Fans who want to get a taste of the Breeders’ Cup, are encouraged to attend the Prelude to the Cup on Oct. 29, which features top notch racing amid plenty of glitz and glamour.
“The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland is a homecoming for many of these great champions who were foaled and raised at Central Kentucky farms and often sold at Keeneland. The Keeneland team feels that sense of connection and history with the Breeders’ Cup, and we look forward to offering fans an extraordinary racing and entertainment experience.”—Keeneland President Bill Thomason
Horse racing savvy Kentuckians are well versed in Breeders’ Cup lore and understand its impact on the entire Thoroughbred industry and beyond. Others might never have heard of the Breeders’ Cup until the announcement last year that Keeneland would welcome the event for the first time. This year’s renewal will be like no other, especially if superstar Triple Crown winner American Pharoah continues on schedule to compete.
Summaries of Breeders’ Cup history have filled many books. There is more than enough information for a semester course. Facts and figures are being added daily as contemporary racers make progress towards the big day and stars of yesteryear make headlines in other ways.
This overview is designed to be brief. Bottomless information is available at www.breederscup.com. For those wishing for a personal rather than cyber touch, Keeneland offers Breeders’ Cup-themed tours for a nominal fee that can be booked at www.keeneland.com/discover
Impact on Lexington and Kentucky
In short, the two-day Breeders’ Cup is 13 races with total prize money of $26 million. Races comprise virtually every division in Thoroughbred racing (dirt, turf, age, gender, sprint and distance) The star-studded headliner—the $5-million Classic on Oct. 31—is expected to attract American Pharoah who would become the first Triple Crown winner ever to compete in the Breeders’ Cup. (The previous Triple Crown was won in 1978, six years before the inaugural Breeders’ Cup.)
The impact of Keeneland hosting the Breeders’ Cup for the first time echoes throughout Central Kentucky. The ripples will spread long before and after the two days of racing and far beyond the track.
In addition to lavishing the Lexington area with unique charm, the Thoroughbred industry gives the region a huge economic boost. Restaurants, hotels, retailers and service establishments will feel the effect of thousands of individuals traveling from around the world and spending their money locally.
According to a recent study, Keeneland generated a $590 million economic impact for Lexington and Fayette County in 2014. The study found that direct spending by visitors during their stay in Lexington while attending the Keeneland race meets and auctions generated approximately $351 million in direct economic activity for Fayette County, resulting in a total economic impact for the area of more than $590 million.
A week-long Breeders’ Cup Festival starts Oct. 24 to celebrate the event and showcase Lexington’s music, food and culture. Activities include free downtown concerts, special activities at the Kentucky Horse Park including a 5K fun run, art exhibits at various venues and Feeders’ Cup food truck competition at Whitaker Ballpark.
“We’re cleaning up, sprucing up and gearing up for a week full of festivities. We’re getting ready for our hometown, Keeneland and our Thoroughbred industry to be the center of attention on a world stage,” Mayor Jim Gray said. “This is the Horse Capital of the World and the Breeders’ Cup is an opportunity for us to show everyone just why we deserve that title.”
Information is available at www.breederscupfestival.com.
Breeders’ Cup World Championships
What: 13 top level Thoroughbred races worth a total of $26 million that decide season-ending titles. Often compared to Super Bowl or World Series
Who: World’s best racehorses
When: Oct. 30 and 31
Where: Keeneland Race Course in Lexington
Headliner: The $5-million Classic on Oct. 31 is richest Thoroughbred race in North America. American Pharoah is on target to become the first-ever Triple Crown winner to compete in the Breeders’ Cup
Tasting the Cup
Attendance for the Oct. 31 races is capped at 45,000, just past Keeneland’s record turnout of 42,617. As a point of reference, the Breeders’ Cup routinely attracts crowds in excess of 60,000 when held at larger venues. On-site parking on Breeders’ Cup days is restricted to vehicles with pre-paid passes. Keeneland will operate shuttles from the Kentucky Horse Park, Rupp Arena and Whitaker Ballpark. (Details available at the Breeders’ Cup website.)
The crowd limit means many fans will be unable to attend, but there are plenty of ways to get a taste of the action.
Many Breeders’ Cup participants will tune up by racing at Keeneland Oct. 2-4 during Fall Stars weekend. The aforementioned luxury accommodations will be available throughout the race meeting to give some Breeders’ Cup vibes. The track also will celebrate with Prelude to the Cup, a nine-race program on Oct. 29 designed as a preview of the festivities.
“Prelude to the Cup will be an unforgettable day of racing at Keeneland on the eve of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup,” Keeneland President Bill Thomason said. “The look and feel of the entire Keeneland campus will convey the excitement of Breeders’ Cup and will offer our guests an opportunity to view world-class racing in a unique setting. This is truly a memorable time in the history of this great race track.”
General admission for Prelude to the Cup is $5 at the gate. All dining and seating reservations must be made in advance as is the case on Breeders’ Cup days.
A novel way to get a glimpse of Breeders’ Cup horses is by watching morning training Oct. 25-29. Keeneland will offer several breakfast options for the 6-10 a.m. sessions that will feature commentary from racing experts. The public also is invited to attend the post-position draw for all Breeders’ Cup races except the Classic and Distaff on Oct. 26 at 1 p.m.
If you don’t have Breeders’ Cup reservations but still want to wager in a party atmosphere, check out the Breeders’ Cup Bash at newly renovated Red Mile in Lexington.
Throughout the summer, Keeneland has been sprucing up for the historic arrival of the Breeders’ Cup. Upgrades range from the obvious additions of luxury chalets and outdoor seating to subtle resurfacings and changes to the saddling paddock.
“We’re beginning the final countdown now to fall meet and Breeders’ Cup, and the energy around the grounds is palpable,” Thomason said. “The look and feel of Keeneland as we head into fall is truly something special.”
Breeders’ Cup information: