Breeders’ Cup board member Satish Sanan indicated March 2 the organization is leaning toward selecting a permanent host site for the World Championships, and also discussed ongoing efforts that could lead to an industry-owned advance deposit wagering system. But in statements issued March 3, Sanan and Breeders' Cup backed away from the comments.
Sanan made his comments on “At the Races With Steve Byk,” a horse racing program on SIRIUS/XM Satellite Radio. Sanan, also a Thoroughbred owner/breeder, discusses industry issues every Tuesday on the program.
Sanan said Breeders’ Cup representatives planned to meet March 3 to discuss the host-site plan and could make a decision soon. In response to a caller who asked if a decision had been made, Sanan said: “It’s not ratified yet.”
Sanan said Santa Anita Park in Southern California meets the criteria of major media market, ability to accommodate crowds, good weather, and generating revenue through attendance and pari-mutuel handle. The only area in which it falls short is its racing surface, currently synthetic.
Sanan said he believes Santa Anita will replace its synthetic surface with dirt. He admitted he’s “not a fan of synthetic surfaces,” but said a host-site decision shouldn’t be based on “dirt versus synthetic.”
“The last two years (at Santa Anita) have been very successful,” Sanan said. “It’s the best site to do it.”
Another potential benefit to Santa Anita is the World Championships is held during the Oak Tree Racing Association meet. Oak Tree is a non-profit focused on horse racing.
Sanan said Breeders’ Cup officials have reached out to many in the industry, including Churchill Downs Inc. and the New York Racing Association. He said NYRA is still battling financial problems, and Breeders’ Cup “can’t make any money” when the event is held at Churchill Downs.
“Churchill will not deal with you on revenue,” Sanan said. “Churchill is probably the worst organization from a horseracing standpoint.”
In a March 3 statement, Breeders' Cup chairman Bill Farish said the organization is "extremely disappointed with recent statements from (Sanan) with regard to host sites, and those views in no way reflect the official position of Breeders' Cup. The Breeders’ Cup has longstanding and valued partnerships with Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association.
"No final decisions have been made on host sites beyond 2010, and as we indicated in December, the board is looking at a permanent host location as a potential option as part of our ongoing strategic planning initiative. We extend our sincere apology to Churchill Downs and the State of Kentucky. We look forward to our return to Louisville and Churchill Downs for the 2010 Breeders’ Cup World Championships."
Sanan, in his March 3 statement, shied away from contentions Santa Anita is the best potential host site.
"I mischaracterized the Breeders’ Cup’s relationship with Churchill Downs and other host sites in a recent radio interview," Sanan said. "I regret my poor choice of words. As part of the Breeders’ Cup strategic planning process, the board continues to evaluate future host sites and other core business issues."
In a related matter, a Kentucky Senate committee March 2 approved legislation that would force Breeders' Cup to make a host-site decision by Nov. 4, 2010, or risk losing tax exemptions when the Cup is run at Churchill. This year's World Championships will be held Nov. 5-6 at Churchill.
Sanan on "At the Races With Steve Byk" said Breeders’ Cup has carefully looked at the alternatives, among them having a three-track rotation and a wild-card site in the fourth year. Having one site with a committed revenue plan each year makes sense, he said.
“This is not going to be an easy decision for people to accept,” Sanan said.
Sanan and others in the industry, including the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and some racing associations—CDI not among them—have been working on a plan to improve the pari-mutuel model so more money is returned to live racing. Sanan said it’s too soon to discuss details, but mentioned an industry-owned ADW system.
Such a plan has been discussed for years, but opportunities were lost. The heightened effort comes as CDI, which already operates the TwinSpires.com ADW system, is ready to close on a deal to purchase Youbet.com.
“You are going to see some things coming out,” Sanan said, noting an industry-owned ADW could provide another $300 million to $500 million in revenue for live racing.
Sanan said the technology is there, but getting industry factions to work together and see the big picture has been a challenge.
He likened it to getting lost in the minutia of taking apart a watch. The important thing, Sanan said, is: “Can we read the (bleeping) time?”