Churchill Downs Gets Push as Top Host Site

The Breeders' Cup board of directors has made no decision on limiting the racetracks that could be considered as future host sites for the World Championships, but during an Oct. 31 luncheon in Louisville, Ky., officials couldn't say enough about having the event at Churchill Downs.

On Nov. 4, Churchill will host the Breeders' Cup for a record sixth time. Churchill has undergone a $121-million renovation since it last hosted the event in 2000, and this year, the World Championships is expected to have a $30-million impact on the region.

Churchill traditionally draws the largest Breeders' Cup crowds and gets high marks from horsemen.

"I believe it's the best facility in the country to hold a major racing event," Greg Avioli, interim chief executive officer of the Breeders' Cup and NTRA, said during the media luncheon traditionally held early in the week of Breeders' Cup.

"I can't think of any staff more equipped to handle the Breeders' Cup than Churchill," said Breeders' Cup chairman Bill Farish, who called Churchill a world-class facility.

"We're very hopeful to be able to bring the event back here," Churchill president Steve Sexton said.

The 2007 Breeders' Cup will be held at first-time host Monmouth Park in New Jersey. The current decade has been one of experimentation in that Breeders' Cup reached out to other first-time hosts--Arlington Park and Lone Star Park--to explore new markets.

Recently, however, Breeders' Cup has taken a different view. It won't focus solely on the more established venues in California, Kentucky, and New York, but it will make tracks submit requests for proposal before they're tabbed as host sites.

It's not uncommon for Breeders' Cup officials to sing the praises of host sites the week of the event or at the morning-after breakfast. The Oct. 31 comments, however, seemed more pronounced.

"We've made no decision beyond 2007," Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer, vice president of Breeders' Cup event marketing, said in a follow-up interview. "There is no official limiting of the potential number of host tracks.

"I do think there is a strong intent on the part of Breeders' Cup to maximize opportunities to run at Churchill Downs, but that doesn't minimize the RFP process and (racetracks' ability) to pitch the best case for being selected."

Churchill has expressed an interest in serving as host for 2008. In a recent article, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that if the World Championships returns to Churchill by 2009, the track would retain a tax exemption approved by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2005.

Earlier this year, retired Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief Jr. said he believed the board of directors was behind schedule in selecting a 2008 host site. Van Clief was among those who pushed for having sites lined up far in advance.

Should the event return to California in 2008, there's a good chance it would be run for the first time on a synthetic racing surface. Hollywood Park has installed Cushion Track, Del Mar is awaiting final approval to install a synthetic surface, and Santa Anita Park is under state mandate to install one as well by the end of 2007.