A three-year plan of upcoming Breeders' Cup World Championships sites does not include eight-time host Churchill Downs or the New York Racing Association, a five-time host; but Breeders' Cup officials said the schedule should not be seen as a snub of those potential sites.
Breeders' Cup officially announced June 24 that Keeneland will host the event in 2015, Santa Anita Park in 2016, and Del Mar in 2017. Keeneland and Del Mar are first-time hosts while Santa Anita will offer the Breeders' Cup for a record ninth time.
When it hosts the Breeders' Cup for the first time at Keeneland, which lists its record crowd at 40,617, the 2015 event will not approach the record Breeders' Cup crowd of 80,452 who turned out in 1998 at Churchill less than 75 miles away in Louisville. But Breeders' Cup said the decision to award Keeneland the 2015 event was based on what the Lexington track could potentially bring to the event as opposed to a falling out with Churchill.
"There's no kind of rift between the two sides," said Breeders' Cup chairman Bill Farish. "They've delivered some great Breeders' Cups in the past and I'm sure they will in the future."
Farish said Breeders' Cup maintains open communication with Churchill Downs about a future event there. Churchill has not hosted a Breeders' Cup since 2011, the second of two straight years it welcomed the event.
"I sure hope so," Farish said when asked if Churchill would ever host another Breeders' Cup. "Again, this decision had no bearing on Churchill in any way."
Assuming the announced schedule becomes reality, Churchill will go at least seven years without hosting the World Championships—the longest stretch between visits from Breeders' Cup since it was launched in 1984. The longest previous stretch was the six years between hosting in 2000 and 2006.
The New York Racing Association currently is in its longest stretch without hosting a Breeders' Cup. After welcoming the event five times during a 20-year stretch that ended in 2005 at Belmont Park, Breeders' Cup has not returned since. The announced schedule would extend that drought to at least 13 years.
Farish said NYRA could fit into the picture better after it resolves its ownership situation. The state took control of the NYRA board in 2012 and that current board's three-year work plan calls for the association to return to private ownership in 2015.
"I don't think (New York) is really looking for a Breeders' Cup right now," Farish said. "When the management thing gets sorted out in 2015, maybe there'll be an opportunity there."
The move to Del Mar and Keeneland marks a return to smaller track facilities, like Breeders' Cup stops at Arlington Park in 2002 and Lone Star Park in 2004. Farish said the Keeneland and Del Mar facilities might be smaller but they offer fans many amenities and high-end seating options.
Breeders' Cup also opted for smaller cities in choosing Lexington's Keeneland and the San Diego area's Del Mar rather than traditional sites like Churchill in Louisville and Santa Anita in the Los Angeles area. Farish noted that while Lexington and San Diego might be smaller than some nearby options, both have strong populations of racing fans.
Breeders' Cup officials are expecting both Keeneland and Del Mar to deliver the top-level service they're known for. Keeneland is the top-ranked track by the Horseplayers Association of North America, which ranks Del Mar fourth.
"Over the years, Del Mar has established an extraordinary reputation for outstanding racing, entertainment and first-class hospitality," said Breeders' Cup president Craig Fravel. "We are excited by the energy and support of the local San Diego community and their efforts to make the 2017 World Championships one of most successful in our history."
Both Keeneland and Del Mar conduct racing under a not-for-profit business model. Santa Anita is owned by The Stronach Group, which is owned by prominent Thoroughbred owner-breeder Frank Stronach. Breeders' Cup officials said The Stronach Group's Gulfstream Park, a three-time host that has announced plans to add seating, also could be in the picture in future years.
"The privilege of working with these three racetracks and racing companies is a very significant one for the Breeders' Cup," Fravel said. "We all share a very much common goal of dedication to live Thoroughbred racing. Whenever there's an industry need or an industry project, the Stronach Group, Keeneland, and Del Mar are the first to raise their hand. It's a distinct pleasure for us to be working with these groups."
While Santa Anita will host one of the three Breeders' Cups from 2015-2017, next year will end a three-year stretch in which the Arcadia, Calif. track hosted the event each year. Farish said moving the event to new locations does not mean that the organization, which over the years has flirted with the idea of a permanent site for the event, has taken that option off the table.
Farish said Breeders' Cup will closely monitor the performances at the new locations.
"One of the interesting things with this three-year experiment is to see how these other venues do and explore our best future. It may be a rotation," Farish said. "Our economic forecasting is very positive for these venues."
Keeneland officials believe that if 2015 goes well, Breeders' Cup could include the Lexington track in future plans.
"We're not necessarily looking at this as a one-time thing," said Keeneland president Bill Thomason. "We have some goals we want to achieve with Breeders' Cup in building their brand and improving their brand. They'll decide if it fits with their strategic plan. If all those things come together and it works for Breeders' Cup and Keeneland, then we can look forward to this being a partnership that can last longer."
In previous trips to Kentucky, the state has granted Breeders' Cup a tax break. Gov. Steve Beshear said June 24 that the issue had not yet come up but he expects it will be addressed in the near future. He added that he didn't think it would impact the state's budget.