Avioli Explains New Breeders' Cup Challenge

Breeders’ Cup president and chief executive officer Greg Avioli said the organization hopes to achieve a number of goals with the newly created Breeders’ Cup Challenge.

The series of 25 qualifying races for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships will launch the weekend of July 28-29 with the Whitney and Go for Wand Handicaps (both gr. I) at Saratoga Racecourse.

"We hope to achieve a number of things (with the Challenge)," said Avioli during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference. "We want to raise the level of interest and awareness in the Breeders’ Cup. A lot of this is directed at casual horse racing fans and sports fans as a whole."

He called the Challenge "a very basic building block—it’s a world championship, and you have to qualify to get in. People understand that in the world of sports, and that’s how we’re trying to introduce them to the concept of the Breeders’ Cup."

When choosing races for the Challenge, Avioli said he focused on late summer and early fall prep events in which the winners would be legitimate Breeders’ Cup contenders. Some race dates were requested to be changed to accommodate the Challenge.

Although the racetracks weren’t able to grant every request, the Whitney was moved to July for the first time in history. "We could not have had this series without the strong participation and courage of the racetracks to try something new," Avioli said.

He said the Breeders’ Cup host networks, ESPN and ABC, have been on board from the conception of the Challenge and even helped him design the series.

"We spent a year working with (the networks)," said Avioli. "We even made sure the Challenge races wouldn’t be preempted by other programming, which has been a problem in the past. They’ve been great to (help us) put our collective best foot forward."

Gary Contessa, who will saddle Papi Chullo for the July 28 Whitney, is enthusiastic about the Challenge.

"It’s a phenomenal concept . . . I would love to see it count for horses that weren’t eligible. How about ‘win and we’ll pay for you to get in?’ That would be nice," he said with a laugh. "For every trainer, it takes the pressure off because if you win one of these races, then you can really approach the (Breeders’ Cup) the way you want to."