ESPN Official: Breeders' Cup a 'Growth Opportunity'

In the words of ESPN senior vice president Len DeLuca, the network is "bullish" on its opportunity to broadcast the Breeders' Cup World Championships for the first time Nov. 4.

"The Breeders' Cup is a growth opportunity of us," DeLuca said during a Nov. 1 teleconference on the network's coverage. "Horse racing is sound, and the Breeders' Cup has its proper place on ESPN."

ESPN will provide seven hours (noon-7 p.m. Eastern) of television coverage from host site Churchill Downs, and also offer a Web cast as part of its multi-platform strategy. ESPN will employ 28 cameras, 3-D graphics, and try other things such as "yard markers" for turf races and possibly dirt races.

NBC has broadcast every Breeders' Cup since the event began in 1984.

DeLuca was on hand during an Oct. 31 luncheon at which Breeders' Cup and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association announced the "Win and You're In" series that guarantees Breeders' Cup berths to the winners of 24 graded stakes from late summer through early fall. He indicated the plan could help kindled interest in the World Championships.

"The reason ESPN got involved in this is it's the World Series of horse racing," DeLuca said. "This really deserves to get the kind of coverage ESPN is now giving it."

ESPN will broadcast the Louisville-West Virginia college football game from Louisville the evening of Nov. 2. Play-by-play announcer Chris Fowler will handle the game and will take part in his first Breeders' Cup.

Fowler said the network would cover the ongoing story of Barbaro and Bernardini. Barbaro, undefeated before his injury in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), is recovering at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania; Bernardini won the Preakness and enters the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) as the even-money morning-line favorite.

Fowler said the two colts are "linked together," and there remains much interest in their stories. Former jockey Jerry Bailey, another commentator for the ESPN coverage of the Breeders' Cup, said he's received e-mails from "disgruntled" fans who bristle at proclamations that Bernardini should be 3-year-old male champion.

"Either way, a lot of people are following this and are very passionate about it," Bailey said.

Bailey rode Bernardini in his first start. "He'd be a dream of any jockey to ride (in the Classic)," Bailey said of Bernardini. "He doesn't appear to have any weaknesses."