Worldwide racing festivals? Fravel says BC was first

     By Robert Kieckhefer

     There is an ongoing explosion of new racing "festivals" around the world and much more is on tap.

     Craig Fravel, president and CEO of Breeders' Cup Ltd., kicked off an Asian Racing Conference seminar on "big events" May 8 in Hong Kong by taking credit for the idea.

     Noting others on the podium represented "big events" in Hong Kong, Dubai, England, Japan and Singapore, Fravel said the 30-year-old Breeders' Cup World Championships were there first and, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery ... The interest has only continued to grow."

     Of course, some of racing's "big day" races far predate the Breeders' Cup. But many festival-type packages do emulate, to a greater or lesser degree, the American format, among them Dubai World Cup night and the British Champions Day races.

     Fravel also told the Hong Kong audience Breeders' Cup's new expanded television strategy, the "Challenge Series," will drive renewed viewer interest by showcasing "the whole spectrum of races throughout the United States, right up to the Breeders' Cup ... an extraordinary lead-in to the Breeders' Cup itself."

     Asked about siting for the Breeders' Cup World Championships, Fravel noted Santa Anita has hosted the event for the past two years and will do so again over the Halloween weekend this year. "The 'Hollywood' part of that is a major attraction, not to mention the weather," he said. A 2015 site has not been announced.

     As others discussed their "festivals" and scheduling around a world calendar, there was some reluctance to discuss a new formal "World Series" linking them. The old Emirates World Series experience, which foundered in part over broadcasting rights and sponsorship, obviously has left a heritage of caution.

Brian Kavanagh, Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland; Rod Street, Chief Executive of the British Champions Series Limited; William A. Nader, Executive Director, Racing, of the Hong Kong Jockey Club; and Craig Fravel, President and Chief Executive Officer of Breeders’ Cup Limited, at the session. Hong Kong Jockey Club Photo

     Rod Street, chief executive of the British Champions Series, boasted the Qipco British Champion Stakes (Eng-I), which anchors Champions Day in October, is officially the world's highest-rated race, benefitting from the impact the now-retired Frankel and globetrotting older horses such as Cirrus Des Aigles. Unlike the social emphasis of Royal Ascot, he said, the focus of Champions Day "is on world-class racing and to date, we're very pleased with the progress we've made ... But, looking at Craig and his 30 years of operation, we're relative newcomers."

      Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, touted the newly developed, two-day (like the current Breeders' Cup) Irish Champions Day set to debut this September. Avoiding the occasional Breeders' Cup-style flaps over siting, the Irish event will run at two tracks—Leopardstown and The Curragh. "There's politics involved in this as well as practicality," Kavanagh said. He said the idea is to bring together top year-end races into "a single weekend that will showcase the industry to the Irish public and the Irish government ... It's very clear that a circuit of international championship meetings is emerging and we want to be part of that."

     Fravel noted four of the Irish races will be "Win and You're In" events for the Breeders' Cup.

     Martin Talty, head of international racing in Dubai, chimed in, "From an international point of view, the Dubai World Cup is right at the top." Dubai's top night, positioned at the end of March, also is uniquely situated near the start of the Northern Hemisphere seasons and the end of the term for the Southern Hemisphere, adding to its appeal as part of an international strategy for owners and trainers.

     Singapore's international races, only a week away, have grown racing interest in that nation from local focus to a world forum, said Simon Leong, vice president of the Singapore Turf Club. And, he said, everything done on the day is targeted for charitable purposes, building public support. "Branded, run, organized to highlight his special use."

     Australia kicked off its fall championships in April this year, joining the worldwide trend. Ten championship races are held across two weekends with increased purses, sparking renewed international interest in the top events. The races also are a convenient lead-in for the Hong Kong, Singapore and Royal Ascot events.

     Japan, with is incredibly rich purse structure, continues to promote two separate events, the Arima Kinen, or Grand Prix (Jp-I), and the Tokyo Yushun, or Japanese Derby (Jp-I), even over the arguably better-known Japan Cup (Jp-I) and Japan Cup Dirt (Jp-I).

     France was not represented on the panel but Louis Romanet, head of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, noted from the floor that the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) and its attendant races remain among the world's most prestigious, highly rated and best funded. An increase in the purse for this year's running of the Arc to 5 million Euros reinforces that, he said.

     Interestingly, when the nine panelists were asked to name their favorite race outside their jurisdictions, none picked a Breeders' Cup race. The Arc got the most votes, with others plumping for the Melbourne Cup, Dubai World Cup and Royal Ascot.

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