(Originally published in the June 22, 2013 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter
Close your eyes, click your heels together three times, and repeat after me: There’s no place like Santa Anita, there’s no place like Santa Anita, there’s no place like Santa Anita.
That was the message coming from Breeders’ Cup after it was recently announced that Santa Anita Park would host the World Championships in 2014 for the third year in a row—an unprecedented run for The Stronach Group’s “Great Race Place” in Arcadia, Calif.
Is it a good deal for the event and the industry? We think so.
“The original concept behind the Breeders’ Cup was to create a major media event,” Breeders’ Cup board member John Nerud told The Blood-Horse in the weeks leading up to the inaugural event at Hollywood Park in 1984. “That is why it is so important in the beginning years to have Cup Day held in the major media markets such as Los Angeles or New York.”
The landscape of racing has been redeveloped in the 30 years since the first running. The Breeders’ Cup has been run in seven states and one Canadian province, but let’s face it, the game needs all the buzz it can get and in the world we presently live in, there are only three sure-fire site locations: Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, and Belmont Park.
A lot has changed since the New York Racing Association last hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 2005. Beyond scandal and the state’s takeover in New York, NYRA did not formally apply to host the 2014 edition. Besides, the World Championships has found its comfort zone shifted from the last weekend in October to the first weekend in November (with some help from Daylight Savings Time also shifting in 2007). The first weekend in November in New York means the New York City Marathon, which takes over 90% of hotel space in the city and essentially shuts down Manhattan on that Sunday, making departure from the Big Apple problematic.
Lights are also an issue. NBC, which televises the Breeders’ Cup, would prefer the event’s signature event, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), be run in East Coast primetime. That requires lights, which they don’t have in New York. Churchill installed permanent lighting in 2010 but when compared to the sunshine in Southern California, which is more appealing?
“NBC is very enthusiastic about our near-term prospects with Santa Anita,” said Craig Fravel, president and CEO of Breeders’ Cup. “They like the daylight event with the East Coast prime-time broadcast. They were more than pleased with the first-year ratings (in 2012) considering it was the first time out of the box in prime time on network television, and they like the ability to leverage their various entertainment assets they have on the West Coast in terms of celebrity personality that are part of the family of NBC networks that participate with us.”
While breeders and horsemen from Central Kentucky have grumbled and fans from coast to (nearly) coast have voiced their displeasure, there are more positives in the call for the West Coast trifecta to make it worthwhile.
• Fair racing surfaces. Last year’s winners came from everywhere. Only three West Coast-based horses won Breeders’ Cup events. Ten of the 15 were won by East Coast and Midwest-based horses—including the first three in the Classic; two from Europe; and we witnessed the first horse to ship and win a Breeders’ Cup race from South America.
• Economics. There are cost savings in continuity, which was an underlying factor in shift to hosting the Breeders’ Cup in back-to-back years at Santa Anita (2008-09) and at Churchill Downs (2010-11).
• Southern California sells. Southern California can deliver the weather; fast racing surfaces; and a venue second to none in Santa Anita with its size, Art Deco design, and majestic mountain backdrop.
Moving forward, the Breeders’ Cup isn’t going to grow the sport on television or on-track as much as it will online through advanced deposit wagering websites and social media platforms.
We would expect the Breeders’ Cup will return to the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs and to Belmont Park in the years after 2014, but for now, let’s click our heels and repeat: There’s no place like Santa Anita…