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Breeders' Cup Changes Hinge on Strategic Plan

A strategic plan will determine future Breeders' Cup programs and purse levels.

The future format of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and Challenge Series hinges on a plan that will be developed in the next six months, officials said July 10.

There will be no immediate changes to the World Championships format, currently two days and 14 races.

The recommendations, outlined during a teleconference for nominators and media, focus on four areas: the mission and vision of Breeders’ Cup; improving the Challenge Series of races that provide qualifying berths for the Championships; improving relationships with racetracks that would become stronger partners; and focusing more on and redefining the customer.

The recommendations were presented by William Field of Value Partners, a consultant hired by Breeders’ Cup to oversee the strategic planning process that began in January. Four workshops were held, and trustees and nominators were surveyed.

Field said the Breeders’ Cup mission is to promote the Thoroughbred industry through Breeders’ Cup racing programs. Its vision is to become the most popular competition in the world in terms of quality and pari-mutuel handle.

The Challenge Series will be a focal point. “We would like to see that whole concept reinforced and made a stronger part of the program,” Field said. “We want to draw most if not all of the major tracks in North America into long-term partnerships.”

The strategic plan was in the works before Breeders’ Cup decided to take about $5 million from reserves to fund the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Stakes program. Satish Sanan, a member of the Breeders’ Cup board of directors who was heavily involved in the planning process, said the idea is to raise revenue from sources other than foal and stallion nominations, which are down this year and could remain so for a few years.

Sanan said if the Breeders’ Cup product is healthy, its fan base, handle, and sponsorships should grow.

“The global market, in particular sporting events, has changed,” Sanan said. “Breeders’ Cup has been out-promoted by other sports.

Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli said the recommendations “are silent on the issue of whether to increase or decrease Championships purses,” which this year will be $25.5 million. There also is no magic number for Challenge Series or Stakes program purses; this year’s process will help determine those numbers going forward.

“The recommendation is to associate the Breeders’ Cup with the best races available,” Avioli said. “What does that mean? I think you’ll see an emphasis on quality but no decrease in money nominators can race for. You’ll probably see more money outside of (the World Championships).

“We don’t know what the appropriate level of Championships purses should be. Could it include a decrease? It could.”

Officials said Breeders’ Cup management will be charged with forming a financial plan that will determine purse levels.

Field said the idea of holding the World Championships overseas was discussed, but it won’t happen any time soon, if at all. “In our view, it’s not something that’s likely to be desirable or a sensible thing to do,” he said. “But you never say never.”

“It’s easier said than done,” Sanan said.

Nominator Bill Landes of Hermitage Farm in Kentucky said he agrees with the strategy but takes offense with Field’s report that 80% of the 46-member board of members and trustees took part in the survey. He said more disclosure and participation is needed.

“I find that unacceptable,” Landes said in reference to members and trustees elected by nominators not participating in the survey. “We should know who shows up for meetings and who responds to surveys. I really find that offensive.”

Avioli said 100% of the 13-member board of directors did respond to the survey. He said he would take Landes’ request for disclosure back to the board of members and trustees.