One for the Road - By Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the November 6, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Evan Hammonds  

By Evan Hammonds

 It’s impossible to separate the greatest Breeders’ Cup races from the venues in which they occurred. We recall indelible moments in time and place: Personal Ensign’s remarkable rally on a cold, rainy afternoon at Churchill Downs; Sunday Silence holding off Easy Goer’s late charge in the growing darkness at Gulfstream Park; Tiznow running down the long Belmont Park stretch to defend his Classic title in post-9/11 New York; and Zenyatta on a resplendent late afternoon at Santa Anita Park.

Horses and tracks are inextricably linked in the moveable feast that is the Breeders’ Cup. And that’s just what John Gaines envisioned when he proposed the idea of racing’s championship event. Gaines wanted the Breeders’ Cup to rotate among tracks and locales around North America each year, much like the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four, or the PGA Championship. What better way to create excitement than to tantalize racing fans and entice general sports fans with an ever-changing location? Some diehard Breeders’ Cup fans have traveled to every venue. What better way to let each participating track show off its best attributes to the racing community?

Obviously, some tracks have met the challenge better than others over the first 27 years. Nine tracks in all have participated and it is safe to say just a trifecta are legitimate contenders to host the Breeders’ Cup these days. They are the landmark tracks accustomed to handling big-event days, having the personnel, infrastructure, and resources to do the job well: Churchill Downs with its iconic Twin Spires, Santa Anita Park with its majestic San Gabriel Mountains backdrop, and New York’s venerable Belmont Park.

Monmouth Park in New Jersey gave its best shot in 2007, but miserable weather in late October at a facility built to close after Labor Day undermined its efforts. Arlington Park in Chicago was a close second and has been the best performer to date with the use of temporary stands.

Lone Star Park, the little track that could, really couldn’t in 2004. The original Gulfstream Park was a solid player in 1989, 1992, and 1999, but the new racino version can’t cut it. Woodbine performed admirably in 1996, but Canada in late fall, plus the track’s loss of space to slot machines, makes it a less than ideal candidate. Aqueduct, home of Breeders’ Cup II in 1985, is poised to become a racino as well. And Hollywood Park doesn’t really want to be a racetrack.

Perhaps former Blood-Horse editor Kent Hollingsworth’s toes were still frozen after returning from Aqueduct in 1985 when he wrote in this space that “the Breeders’ Cup should stay in Los Angeles, at Santa Anita or Hollywood Park, whichever track operation can do the best job of promoting Breeders’ Cup Day, at the track and on television.” His assumption was television viewers would prefer a venue that would “be bright and sunny rather than cold and rainy” with “no overcoats in the crowd,” when tuning in racing’s big event.

Twenty-six years later we believe it’s proven the sport and the horses are the show on TV, not what’s happening in the grandstand.

Breeders’ Cup had hoped to make Santa Anita the permanent home of the World Championships, citing the prospect of long-term sponsorship deals, good weather, and proximity to the entertainment community.

A permanent home does not make sense for a lot of reasons, not the least of which are questions about the long-term stability of the ownership entity. Lest we forget, Frank Stronach’s Magna Entertainment Corp. went bankrupt. It was succeeded by Frank Stronach’s MI Developments. California racing is, in a word, unstable.

The Breeders’ Cup also has always been in need of a back-up site. Amazingly, Belmont Park was able to pull off an emotionally charged Breeders’ Cup in 2001 just weeks after 9/11. But just in case, Churchill Downs was ready to pinch hit.

The Breeders’ Cup returns to Churchill Downs in 2011. But after two years we’ll miss the freeways of L.A. and the Manhattan skyline. Let’s hope Breeders’ Cup takes its show on the road in 2012 and beyond.

13 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Rachel

The freeways of LA? When were you driving, at 2 AM? LOL...when the smog lifts...oh, wait, it never lifts in LA...;-)

I'd like to see it at Del Mar...while sitting on the 5...

You gotta bring it back East every few years, to be fair...Belmont and CD are both good...rain or shine. Let's run.

03 Nov 2010 3:49 PM
Vince

is this idea of a fixed bc venue on the table then? I like the rotation from track to track. monmouth were just unlucky with the weather. normally, that meeting would have been abandoned. er, we could do without lone star park though in future. I think dundalk dog track has a bigger circumference than that.  

03 Nov 2010 7:21 PM
DBH

The Breeders Cup needs to change venues every year......one track is not the way to go.

03 Nov 2010 7:34 PM
Hildegard

Del Mar?  Right.  Have you experienced the parking situation on a major race day?  Dirt parking lot with one exit = over an hour to get out.  And that's on Pacific Classic day.  I can't imagine the cluster**** that would occur on BC day.

03 Nov 2010 8:19 PM
John T

I was at Woodbine when it hosted

the 1996 Breeders Cup and you could

not wish for better fall weather than it was that day.I think what most people forget Canada is the second largest country in the world

next to Russia and sure, certain parts of it are extremely cold at that time of year,but not were Woodbine is located.It,s too bad with that type of thinking as Woodbine has the only turf track in North America outside of the dirt track and with the Breeders Cup now expanded to two days and turf races playing such a leading part ,it is the perfect place to consider.

03 Nov 2010 11:24 PM
ThoroGreats

Two words- HIALEAH PARK, as future site should seriously be considered. Now that Gulfstream can't hold the Cup there, one of the most beuatiful tracks anywhere should be in the rotation along with Belmont, Churchill, Santa Anita.

04 Nov 2010 4:24 AM
Soldier Course

Horse racing appears to be in such trouble that I wonder how much longer the Breeders' Cup is going to be around. Yesterday's news from Maryland was certainly sobering.

04 Nov 2010 3:13 PM
Convene

Actually Woodbine in November is kind of a lucky bag. Our weather up here can be warm and sunny - but it can also be cold, windy, rainy or even snowy this late in the year. It's too bad because it's a beautiful track (and it would give me a chance to go watch the Breeders Cup live!), but at this time of year, what you see is what you get. This year, we'd have had at least two days of rain and on Saturday a rain-snow mix is anticipated. I love it that the event moves around, but this late in the year, some venues can be either wonderful or like the soup poor Monmouth got stuck with.

04 Nov 2010 3:18 PM
Steve

Every time the BC is run anywhere other than So. Cal. (and formerly Florida, which is now out), there is a chance of Monmouth Park in '07 all over again.  Rain pouring down, two days of miserable conditions, a champion breathing his last in the mud and darkening gloom.  A festival of racing?  Not in my book.  Kent Hollingsworth was right

04 Nov 2010 7:47 PM
Brian Russell

I am also against a permanent site but, if they want one, what about Colonial Downs?  Huge turf course (s), 9 furlong main track, good weather at this time of year and plenty of room to add permanent or temporary seating.

04 Nov 2010 8:21 PM
Bellwether

FOUR SITE$ & ROE TATE FOREVER...THE KARMA GOT MONMOUTH PARK KNOT THE WETHER???...LONG LIVE THE BC BABY!!!...ty...

05 Nov 2010 1:54 AM
Rondo44

While their at it let's make all the Breeder's Cup races for Cal. Bred's. Thats what it will turn into when no one else in the country cares about it. FOUL BALL!!! Keeping it in Caligornia every year is the dumbest thing I've heard to date.

05 Nov 2010 8:26 AM
Yatz

I agree with what Hildegard posted. Del Mar shouldn't be even in contention with their invisible access and traffic control. Churchill Downs has their act together with incredible coordination to manage vehicle and foot traffic.

I will never go to a major race at Del Mar again after waiting an hour and a half to get out of the parking lot.

Rotate it between the east coast and the west coast. But not at Del Mar.

06 Nov 2010 10:03 PM

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