There’s a lot on the line as the Thoroughbred industry approaches the 36th running of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, held this year for the 14th time in Southern California and for the 10th time at Santa Anita Park. There was a lot on the line, too, in 1984 when the first Breeders’ Cup was held at a refurbished Hollywood Park. It’s impossible to move forward if you don’t know where you’ve been, so we took a look back.
Editor Kent Hollingsworth told BloodHorse readers following that inaugural running:
“What did the first Breeders’ Cup program do for the Thoroughbred industry? Gave it a lift. At a time when the business trends were down, the first Breeders’ Cup program, by its very coming into being, raised expectations that the second and subsequent Breeders’ Cup programs would turn those business trends upward.
“The Thoroughbred racing industry, fragmented geographically, was striving to attract attention and local business and was finding that traditional race-track business methods were generating less business, fewer fans.”
Hollingsworth also noted: “Contrary to what new investors in bloodstock believed…the financial viability of Thoroughbred breeding is solely dependent upon the health of the racing business.”
The first Breeders’ Cup offered an unprecedented $10 million in purses. At the time, there were only two seven-figure races in the U.S., the Arlington Million (G1T) that was first run in 1981 and the Hollywood Futurity (G1). The 1984 Kentucky Derby (G1) was worth $567,000. The first Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) purse was $3 million, and the Turf was $2 million. Today’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic is worth $6 million and the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf is worth $4 million, part of a two-day event that has $28 million on the table.
The industry and the world have changed dramatically since that blue-sky afternoon in Inglewood, Calif. Working on an online feature story on Hall of Fame jockey Sandy Hawley, who rode three horses in that first Breeders’ Cup so many Novembers ago, gave us some comparisons…from what it was like in the saddle to how we handle ourselves these days, physically, socially, and morally.
“For one, there are more Breeders’ Cup races—14 instead of seven—compared to the first few years. It’s exciting for the fans to see different types of horses, and they get to see the best of the best,” Hawley said. “There is more international competition now. There are even horses coming from Japan and Korea now.
“The equipment is a lot different,” he said. “Riders have safety vests now. It’s getting more and more safe. It’s safer for the horses as well. The track surfaces are better now than back then. Safety of horse and of rider is being looked at all of the time.
“The hockey players of old…they were in great shape, but they’d like to have a couple of beers after they got off the ice. The riders would have a beer or two after the races,” said the personable Canadian. “The riders now are much more health conscious. It’s not that the riders in my day weren’t healthy or fit, and I wasn’t much of a drinker anyway, but the riders now go to the gym and they’re working out.”
The science of sports...and the science of everything...have gotten better.
“The new technology keeps getting better for horse racing,” Hawley summarized. “And the international flair is getting better all of the time. The internet is tremendous, too…and social media, everything is getting better for the Breeders’ Cup.”
It’s hard to argue any of his points.
Meanwhile, back in ’84, Hollingsworth drew the curtain on his column:
“This Breeders’ Cup show will play well, though, in New York and other towns in future years. The celebrities will be there, the racing personages will be there, and others will follow, for the good horses will be there.
“This one event, seen by more people every year on network television, can introduce the best of horse racing to new, more fans. Which can only help racing and, consequently, the breeding industry.”
Let’s help ourselves to a safe, sound, successful event.