Mathea Kelley

Keeneland Plans Future Bid for Breeders' Cup

Lexington officials evaluate options as potential host site for World Championships.

Keeneland is throwing its hat into the ring as a potential host site for the Breeders' Cup World Championships, track president and chief executive officer Bill Thomason confirmed March 27.

The Lexington racetrack has never hosted Thoroughbred racing's premiere season finale event, but according to Thomason, "we are very serious" about making a bid.

Since its inception in 1984, the Breeders' Cup has been held at 10 different tracks over the course of three decades. The past seven years, however, have seen the event rotate between Santa Anita Park and Churchill Downs. The 2014 races are slated once again for Santa Anita Oct. 31-Nov. 1—the third year in a row the Breeders' Cup has been hosted by the California track.

An announcement has not yet been made regarding the location for the 2015 event.

"We're obviously interested in getting it back to Kentucky, which is important for our breeding community and the people who support the Breeders' Cup," Thomason said. "We're interested in hosting a world-class event at our world-class facility if we can do it in a way that accommodates our patrons. People who come to Keeneland and people who attend the Breeders' Cup have expectations as to what the experience will be."

Thomason declined to comment on whether a deal to host the Breeders' Cup would mean the removal of Keeneland's Polytrack surface. In 2008 and 2009 the Breeders' Cup was run on a synthetic track at Santa Anita, but woes with the artificial material led to its removal in 2010.

"All of this is in the discovery phase; there are a lot of moving parts, obviously," said Thomason, who confirmed Keeneland had informed Breeders' Cup of its plan.

Keeneland would need permission from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to likely extend racing dates into the traditional late October or early November period during which the Breeders' Cup is held. Those dates are held by Churchill, which is usually in the running as a Breeders' Cup host site and has hosted the event a record eight times.

There would also need to be temporary facilities at Keeneland in order to accommodate a Breeders' Cup-sized crowd; in 2011 when Churchill last hosted, two-day attendance came out to 105,820. Last year the numbers were down at Santa Anita, as 94,628 attended both days.

In 1998 when Breeders' Cup was still a one-day event, Churchill set the record for single-day attendance with 80,452. Keeneland's biggest attendance days have topped out over 40,000.

"There are many options for luxury villas and things that are provided for other upscale events around the country, and that's what the evaluation is going to be over the course of the next few months," Thomason said.

He said he hopes Keeneland could come to the table with a plan as early as next year.

Breeders' Cup president and CEO Craig Fravel declined to comment on the matter, citing the organization's policy that prohibits discussion of host tracks until they are announced. "Hopefully in the not too distant future we'll have a relatively longterm view of future hosts," he said of a strategic planning process the organization is currently undergoing.

Breeders' Cup officials have considered a permanent host site or a limited rotation between tracks as an option going forward. The last time the Breeders' Cup was held outside of Santa Anita or Churchill was the 2007 event at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.