The new "World Thoroughbred Championships" and rebranding of the Breeders' Cup aren't as confusing as they appear, industry officials said in the wake of their announcement Tuesday. In short, the changes could mean everything to the general public, and very little to people within the Thoroughbred industry.
Research has indicated that 36% of "light" racing fans have no clue what the Breeders' Cup is, thus the rebranding initiative. But for those within the industry, the marketing plan will have little impact on how they do business, at least for now.
The Breeders' Cup is still the Breeders' Cup, but it will be called the "Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships" to tie into a broader stakes program and marketing effort that leads up to the fall championship of eight divisional races. It's called the "Road to the World Thoroughbred Championships."
The Breeders' Cup races are still Breeders' Cup races with a sponsor's name attached. For at least three years, the Juvenile will be called the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile in light of a new sponsorship deal with the financial management company.
If, for example, a company called Take to the Sky Airlines decided to become a sponsor of the race for 2-year-old fillies, the event would be called the Take to the Sky Airlines Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
The system by which horses are nominated and earn points for the championship will remain the same, as will the system by which the industry grades its races. The American Graded Stakes Committee will continue to assess the status of stakes each year, and that information will be used accordingly.
"From the perspective of the NTRA and Breeders' Cup in terms of promotional efforts, it's very probable we will not refer to the grading system at all," said D.G. Van Clief Jr., president of the Breeders' Cup and vice chairman of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. "That system and its implications are well beyond the light user or general sports fan."
But the NTRA and Breeders' Cup, linked through a joint operating agreement, will continue to "rely on the (graded stakes system) to be an accurate indicator of quality," Van Clief said.
The Breeders' Cup National Stakes Program, which offers millions of dollars in purse money to Breeders' Cup-nominated horses each year, generally has little bearing on horses that eventually compete in the eight divisional championships. Still, it serves a purpose as an incentive for breeders to nominate foals.
"We do believe there is the potential for a branding conflict between the Breeders' Cup National Stakes Program and the new World Thoroughbred Championships," Van Clief said. "But it is an important purse program, and we want to think through it carefully."
As for sponsorships, NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said he'd be "very pleased" with two or three more this year, and four or more by next year's championship. "We have candidates that fall into the automotive category, but it's our policy to wait until a deal is consummated (to make an announcement)."
The goal is to land a sponsor for each of the eight championship races.