Anne M. Eberhardt

Fravel: Enhancing the Cup Experience

New breakfast marquee and a new race have been popular.

Noting that it is a “world championship event and it ought to be at a world championship venue,” Breeders’ Cup president and chief executive officer Craig Fravel said track enhancements will play a role in the selection of future sites to host the World Championships.

“One of the things we’re going to do with respect to future host sites is to step back a little bit and ask them what their interest level is and what their future capital improvement projects are, the kinds of things that will make host sites and Breeders’ Cup both better in the future,” Fravel said Nov. 4, during the first day of this year’s two-day event at Churchill Downs.

Breeders’ Cup has selected California’s Santa Anita Park for the 2012 World Championships and is in discussions with officials of the New York Racing Association for Belmont Park to serve as 2013 host site. In citing the emphasis on facilities as a host-site priority, Fravel noted the NYRA tracks will soon have a new source of revenue for improvements as a result of the video lottery terminal casino facility being opened at Aqueduct.

“Tracks all around the country are going through transition phases,” Fravel said. “We want to know what they think the place is going to look like five or 10 years down the road. We want to know what their plans are as we go through the planning process.

“We ask a lot of people in terms of nominations, entry fees, and ticket sales, and so we ought to be able to deliver value equivalent to what they are paying.”

While he has no qualms about the facilities at Churchill Downs, Fravel said looking at facilities as host sites is part of an overall Breeders’ Cup plan to enhance the experience of all involved with the World Championships—owners, breeders, and fans. He cited the new indoor area in the stable area where Breeders’ Cup horsemen can enjoy complimentary breakfast and other amenities.

“Most of the changes this year have been in terms of the customer experience,” Fravel said. “You have a variety of different customers—horsemen, owners, trainer, breeders, and your customers who are walking through the door and paying for tickets or wagering.

“There has been a focus on the customer experience this year and an ongoing focus on making sure the event lives up to its expectations. The new breakfast marquee has been a huge success. It took a little chunk out of the budget but it has been worth it.”

Fravel, who assumed his position July 18 after serving as president and general manager of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said the organization will continue to review its race offerings that now total 15 after the addition this year of the Juvenile Sprint.

“I don’t think there are too many (races),” Fravel said. “I think the more opportunities we can give owners to cash a check in this business, the better. That doesn’t mean to say we want to move horses from one category to another and have two six-horse fields instead.

"The (Juvenile Sprint) was great. As a general philosophical matter, you take horses and move them out of one race and into another."

Fravel said this year’s event had gone smoothly, with most of the work for World Championships having been completed well in advance of Nov. 4-5. He said the decision by Churchill personnel to cancel turf workouts Nov. 3 just as rain began to fall was a “miscommunication.” As a result of the decision, some European horsemen were upset they were unable to train their horses on grass.

The Breeders’ Cup president declined to second-guess the decision, noting that Breeders’ Cup does not interfere in such matters.

“One of the things about being a guest at someone else’s racetrack is that there are certain elements of doing their job that are left up to them,” Fravel said. “We try to approach this as if we’re guests in someone’s home and we want to make sure we don’t overstep our bounds.”

One challenge facing Breeders’ Cup is growing resistance from horsemen in plans to prohibit the anti-bleeding medication furosemide in World Championships races for 2-year-olds in 2012 and for all Cup races in 2013.

Breeders' Cup chairman Tom Ludt declined to speculate what might happen to those plans if there is no support from horsemen, saying the goal is for there to be consensus on the issue.

“We would like to have everybody on board,” Ludt said. “The whole point is we need cooperation from all participants, and the more resistance there is the harder it gets. At the end of the day, we are trying to do what is best for the horse and for the game. Some don’t agree with that.

“It is important we develop support for the good of the game. We think it’s good for the game; that’s why the board voted that way. We’re trying to phase it in because we felt it was the better option for horsemen.”

Ludt said he hopes plans by the American Graded Stakes Committee to prohibit the therapeutic drug, formerly marketed as Lasix and now known as Salix, will help ease the transition for the Breeders’ Cup.

“If they stick to their plan, that will help us,” Ludt said.