Site to Behold - By Evan Hammonds

The second day of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park turned into an afternoon for returning winners. In a span of six Breeders’ Cup races, four previous winners—Groupie Doll, Mizdirection, Secret Circle, and Wise Dan—made well-deserved repeat trips to the winner’s enclosure and were well-received by the 58,795 on hand in Southern California and the millions watching on national television or at their off-track betting venues.

Another repeat performer was the host site itself…as it will be again next year, hosting the event for an unprecedented third consecutive time. There is no denying “The Great Race Place” is a premier place for the Breeders’ Cup, which has held seven editions of the World Championships there. Only Churchill Downs, with eight, has hosted more.

Having multiple runs on the West Coast was made more palatable a year ago when the majority of winners came from Europe, the East Coast, and Kentucky. East Coast-based horses took it on the chin in 2013 with only one winner, the 2-year-old filly Ria Antonia, having prepped on the east side of the Allegheny Mountains. Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Mucho Macho Man, an “East Coast” horse, had prepped at Santa Anita in the Sept. 28 Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I).

The European contingent, however, has figured out how to excel at Santa Anita, winning three of the five races Nov. 1 and two more Nov. 2, with Declaration of War missing the Classic by a neck.

John Gosden, a top trainer in England who trained on the Southern California circuit earlier in his career, is one of many European trainers who loves the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. He said having the World Championships in Southern California actually helps European horsemen.

“You know what kind of horse to bring—you know what the weather will be like; you know what the track will be like,” he said. “When the Breeders’ Cup was at Monmouth, it was ruined by the rain. And you never know what you’ll get at Belmont Park.”

Trainer Aidan O’Brien had a similar sentiment.

“The track is always in super shape; you know what you are going to get,” he said. “It would be really hard to improve upon Santa Anita.”

The Breeders’ Cup board will soon be pressed with the issue of future host sites. Not so long ago there was a push for Churchill Downs to be named the permanent host of the Breeders’ Cup. Many still hold to the pipe dream of majestic Hialeah Park being refitted for the World Championships. Other than some grousing about the speed-favoring track on the Nov. 1 card, this year there seems to be a groundswell for Santa Anita to get even more play as a host site than it already has.

While breeders and horsemen in Kentucky may feel slighted, and horsemen and fans in New York wonder whether the Breeders’ Cup will ever return to Belmont Park, it all comes down to the philosophy of the board.

While the original concept of the Breeders’ Cup back in the early 1980s was to make it a movable feast, its original premise was also to promote and grow the sport. National television exposure is the best way for racing to put its best foot forward. Santa Anita offers the best backdrop of any venue in America, especially in November, when it offers a fast track and a verdant turf course that looks like paradise to the fans back East as the fall colors give way to brown and gray.

Breeders’ Cup chairman Bill Farish told The Blood-Horse’s Tom LaMarra that the board should have a more permanent policy toward host sites by the end of the year or by the first quarter of 2014.

Keeping the host site moving in some sort of rotation among Southern California, Churchill Downs, and Belmont Park is the only one that makes sense. Having a larger segment of that rotation at Santa Anita makes even more sense. It is another repeat winner we can all get behind.

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