Site Prep - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the March 30, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell For three years the owners of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.—home of the New York Giants and New York Jets—have been planning for the 2014 Super Bowl. With that kind of time, the host can line up world-class entertainers and work with local cities to coordinate other events for the thousands of fans who’ll attend the NFL’s championship game.

Owners of the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., have the same luxury of time because they already know they’ll be hosting the Super Bowl in 2015.

Where will the Breeders’ Cup World Championships be in 2014? No one knows.

And when will the host for 2015 get the nod? Chances are it won’t be until the late spring or summer of 2014 unless the Breeders’ Cup board takes a different approach than has been the norm for much of the last six years.

Breeders’ Cup president and CEO Craig Fravel said last week he hopes the 2014 site will be selected within 45 days. If the announcement is made around the same time as the decision, then we should know the 2014 site right around the running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). It is possible then that the 2014 host will have several more months to plan than Santa Anita Park got for the 2012 championships. That announcement was made in August 2011.

Breeders’ Cup used to plan further ahead. In September 2001, for example, the board selected sites for 2002 through 2005. The last track to get more than two-years notice was Churchill Downs, when it was told in October 2008 that it would host the event in 2010.

Fravel said he agrees it’s preferable to identify sites further out but also said “like other things in racing, the process has become more complicated.

“We have been faced with several unforeseen circumstances such as the Magna bankruptcy, the NYRA bankruptcy, and management changes at The Stronach Group,” he said. “These are external factors that have forced us into what we have today. We would like to have a five-year announcement, but I can’t point to any time in recent history where that would have been possible.”

Other issues swirling in the background include the Breeders’ Cup’s continuing policy to prohibit the use of race-day Salix in juveniles and a desire by some to have one permanent site for the championships.

Federal law requires any racetrack to have horsemen’s approval before it can simulcast its races. Considering that many horsemen’s groups oppose the Salix ban, it seems unrealistic to expect a simulcast agreement to come easy for 2014 and beyond if the policy continues beyond this year.

Fravel would only say that board members have had informal conversations with horsemen’s groups but “no formal communication regarding the medication policy.”

Weighing the feasibility of a permanent home was part of Breeders’ Cup’s 2009 strategic plan, but Fravel would not say if this option is playing a role in the current selection of future sites.

“Since we don’t have a site selected, then all options are on the table, as they like to say in Middle East peace negotiations,” Fravel said.
Many people are keen to see the Breeders’ Cup go back to Belmont Park, which hasn’t hosted the event since 2005. Belmont was being considered for 2013 a couple of years ago, then the floor fell out from underneath the New York Racing Association. A takeout scandal escalated into a full-blown takeover by New York state through a three-year Reorganization Board.

Belmont may still be nothing more than a longshot for 2014 though NYRA’s handle numbers were strong in 2012. And perhaps the Reorganization Board has provided some stability.

Monmouth Park pursued the 2013 championships and is lobbying for 2014 with equal vigor. It would certainly be a nice double for New Jersey to host both the Super Bowl and Breeders’ Cup in the same year.

Regardless of where the championships go in 2014, it seems the sport’s marquee weekend is continually behind the eight ball on marketing and promotions because of its late selections.

Rotating the Breeders’ Cup to different tracks has been the right thing to do because it gives racing fans around the country an opportunity to be a part of the event and see the sport’s star athletes up close. But, as Fravel noted, the decisions being made are often shaped by turmoil. The Breeders’ Cup needs to eliminate much of the uncertainty in the selection process. Pick three or four sites and set up a regular rotation. Keep the championships in one place for two consecutive years if it helps. With a rotation set, the Breeders’ Cup can focus on developing long-term business relationships that could actually help grow the event. Think Triple Crown.

The Breeders’ Cup gets predictability, the fans get to see the stars, and everybody wins. 

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