When Breeders’ Cup announced the new Breeders’ Cup Challenge, highlighted by the “Win and You’re In” provision, last October, the major goal was to generate more interest from the general public. Officials said it seems to have worked and has produced an added benefit: interest from prospective host racetracks.
Halfway through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, which qualifies 24 winners for automatic berths in the Oct. 26-27 World Championships at Monmouth Park, Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli said most of the response from fans, media, and people in the horse racing industry has been very positive. So good, in fact, that next year’s “Win and You’re In” series could expand to as many as 60 events at more than a dozen racetracks.
One of the biggest reasons Avioli is encouraged is due to the response he has received from racetrack managers around the country. Additional racetracks have expressed interest in carrying a “Win and You’re In” event at their facilities. Monmouth Park, Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack, Presque Isle Downs, Suffolk Downs, and Turfway Park are just a few that will be considered when the Breeders’ Cup board of directors meets in December.
Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs, would like to see the Massachusetts Handicap, which returned this year after a two-year hiatus, as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race.
“We talked to the Breeders’ Cup racing officials about adding the MassCap, and we would also be willing to add another race with a purse level worthy of consideration for one of the other divisions,” Tuttle said. “A market like Boston, which is a major league sports market, is the kind of town that horse racing needs. From Suffolk Downs’ perspective, we’d love a little bit of the Breeders’ Cup brand sprinkled on us. It certainly would draw attention locally and nationally. It would also help recruit horses.”
Avioli said as many as 36 Breeders’ Cup Challenge races could be added next year. “We could have as many as five per division,” he said. “Any track that has an existing grade I or grade II race or is creating a new major race between the third week in July and the beginning of October will be considered. But no final decision will be made until the end of the year.”
And while more discussion is needed to determine a 2008 schedule, the Challenge has served its purpose, Avioli said.
“There are a number of metrics that we can use to gauge the success, and right off the bat, the television ratings for the Breeders’ Cup Challenge races have been strong,” he said. “For the time periods we were on, we were the third-most-watched of all the sporting events. Only the PGA and Major League Baseball did better. We out-rated the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. I think a lot of that is because of ‘Win and You’re In.’ ”
So far, 10 of the 24 Challenge qualifying events have been held at three different racetracks. If there has been any negative feedback, it’s that at least four of the automatic qualifying horses (Jambalaya, Diabolical, Royal Highness, and Crossing the Line) won’t accept invitations, in effect negating the purpose of the series. Injuries, owners’ unwillingness to pay supplemental entry fees, and other racing-related factors have been given as reasons.
“We expected that, given the practice of how careful owners and trainers are with horses these days,” Avioli said. “With 24 automatic spots, it is not likely that all will show up. We expected a percentage not to accept. But we do expect a higher percentage from the next three legs (Belmont Park Sept. 30, Keeneland Oct. 6, and Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park Oct. 7) to come because we know these events are used as Breeders’ Cup preps.”