Site Might - by Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the June 22, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter

By Evan Hammonds 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…

9 Comments

Leave a Comment:

John from Baltimore

If fans from different parts of the country can't see the program live ever, they will slowly lose interest.  The breeders cup and sport will lose in the long run and that is my opinion.  

18 Jun 2013 12:49 PM
Strike the Gold

I am do not post often.  I am more a gambler then a chatter, but this really made me sad.  I feel like this is about making cash and not fans.  The orginal intent was to have a championship for all, no regional bias, not a SO-CAL event, or just Churchill or Belmont.  Is this all we have left?

18 Jun 2013 2:05 PM
SOUTHBENDFARM

I disagree.  I think the Breeders Cup should move EVERY year and should also return to Woodbine.  They did a great job hosting in 1996.  Muddy tracks and bad weather are part of the everyday recing scene and to run away from it is silly.  California has a great venue in Santa Anita, but it can't hold a candle to CHurchill Downs.  Every attendance record is at Churchill.  If they opened up the infield.....forget about any other track even approaching their attendance.  SInce Santa ANita went back to conventional dirt, I don't mind it as much as when it was Synthetic.  Woodbine is still Polytrack, but its not the same Polytrack as Turfway or Keeneland.  It has to handle much colder weather then either KY track has to and much more rain.  It is praised by all who have run on it.  SO after 2014, the Breeders Cup should not return to Santa ANita for at least 5 to 7 years.  The rest of the COuntry would like to have the event and Breeders Cup will benefit from moving it around as it was intended from the start.

18 Jun 2013 2:40 PM
Old Old Cat

Breeding a horse is an expensive and sometimes not so rewarding endeavour.  Some breeders, like me, do not have a lot of money to throw away.  As a yearling when it comes time to consider ponying up $500.00 for a Breeders Cup nomination, consideration has to be given to where the future sites might be.  I paid my nomination fee fully expecting that at some point, in some years, the races would be less than a full continent away.  Breeders with tons of money can easily afford to throw away $500 here and there with impunity, but the smaller breeder/owners have to very carefully weigh their decisions.  

I think that if the committee had been open with the public, and posted where, (approximately), the future sites were expected to be, (California, California, California, California, etc) a lot less (not so rich) breeders would not be nominating.

We have been sold a bag of goods..

18 Jun 2013 7:32 PM
Proud Acres

Since I am from California I am prejudiced.  With that said, there is no track like Santa Anita.  The weather is usually always very comfortable.  The view is remarkable, and I am delighted it is again at Santa Anita.  

20 Jun 2013 8:41 AM
Pedigree Ann

A Breeders Cup perpetually in SoCal would cease to be a national event and become more of a regional one. There will be more and more Mineshafts, whose connections prefer not to ship so far to run on a track that is often speed-favoring, possibly in hellish heat and/or the smoke of fires in the foothills. The committee has sold its soul to NBC, forgetting the people who make their show possible.

20 Jun 2013 11:43 AM
palaceplace

santa anita is a dump. in the middle of nowhere. nice view yes.

woodbine and belmont are beautiful with the best turf courses in north america. the euro's come to woodbine in the fall for the big races. i will not be betting the b.c. this year as a show of disgust with the b.c. leaders. i will not be the only one.

22 Jun 2013 4:36 PM
rapture

I disagree wholeheartedly that the BC should stay at SA. I miss the years when it was consistently at different tracks. Woodbine. Arlington. Gulfstream. Monmouth. Lone Star Park. It would be fantastic to have it actually travel again. I would love to see it at Saratoga. The Breeder's Cup is being ruined by staying in one place. That's not how it started. That's not how it should be.

23 Jun 2013 9:53 PM
Needler in Virginia

Why not just call the weekend the California BC and get on with it? That's what it has become and I agree with John From Baltimore, Strike The Gold, Old Old Cat, and SOUTHBENDFARM and Pedigree Ann. We've been sold a bill of goods, the "world" championships aren't REALLY that; I also agree that Woodbine should be in the mix and why not look at some other Canadian tracks, as well?  Lord knows Lone Star Park had did a load of fixing up when the BC was held there. A REAL BC travels, or that's what we were told. Considering the SA location AGAIN, along with the race day drug "decisions" made lately, and the high profile resignations from the board, tells me the BC answers to big box trainers based in California and really could not give a tinker's damn about the breeders and owners and trainers from all over the rest of the country, never mind the rest of the world.

ATTENTION: SNARKY ALERT!!!

But all this is really OK, folks. Forget we ever had a Breeder's Cup, and let's start over with the SoCal Breeder's Cup weekend, add loads of two year old races, forget the turf races, forget the distance "marathons", and...........HEY! WHY NOT ADD QUARTER HORSES??? AND MAYBE EVEN BARREL RACING???

Bah, humbug. The windows at SA won't get any of my money  nor will NBC get any of my time. I've had a bellyful of the BC lying to us.  ENOUGH!

25 Jun 2013 12:14 AM

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