Contrary to some reports, no deal has yet been reached to hold the 2012 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park but every indication suggests the Arcadia, Calif., track is in the driver's seat to hold the championship racing event for the sixth time next year.
In June, representatives of three tracks – Churchill Downs (site for the 2010 and '11 two-day championships and eight times overall), Belmont Park (a four-time host, most recently in 2005), and Santa Anita Park (the site for successful back-to-back championships in 2008-09 in conjunction with the Oak Tree Racing Association) – made presentations to the Breeders' Cup Host Site Committee.
According to sources, Santa Anita's was the only presentation that came with a substantial guaranteed revenue stream for the Breeders' Cup from the host racing association, but the committee is said to have concerns over the safety of the main dirt track, which was newly installed for the 2010-11 Santa Anita winter meet and resulted in a disproportionate number of injuries. The 2008-09 championships were held on a synthetic surface and yielded no significant injuries. The track was recently closed to training and a new mixture of sand and clay installed.
To appease those concerns, officials with Santa Anita and representatives of owner Frank Stronach have worked with the Host Site Committee for an “out” clause in the event upcoming meetings on the new track in the fall and winter do not produce safer results for the horses. A late change of locations – in the spring of 2012, for example – could result in loss of sponsorship revenue and block room deposits in Los Angeles area hotels, and Breeders' Cup officials may want financial compensation. One option believed to be on the table is the possible use of Hollywood Park as an alternative site. That raises questions about racing dates, which are granted by the California Horse Racing Board, but the CHRB is a proponent for holding the event in California and it is unlikely that would be an obstacle.
Belmont Park has never been the top choice of Breeders' Cup officials because of historically lukewarm on-track ticket sales, and the expansion to a Friday-Saturday format in 2007 has heightened concerns that Friday's races could be a box-office bust at Belmont. Another drawback to a New York Breeders' Cup is the absence of a legislative incentive package and the fact Belmont Park as a facility is not best-suited for a cold-weather event. That could change by 2013, if planned capital improvements are completed, using anticipated revenue from the Aqueduct casino VLTs.
Churchill Downs plays the role of “old reliable” when it comes to the Breeders' Cup, always generating large on-track crowds and big handle. It is experienced at hosting major events with multiple levels of hospitality, but the Breeders' Cup will always play second fiddle in Kentucky to the Oaks-Derby weekend, and the mid-sized Louisville media market is viewed as a negative by some corporate sponsors.
A promotional DVD prepared for the Santa Anita presentation highlighted the fact that the Breeders' Cup is the single biggest day of horse racing in the major media market of Los Angeles, something neither Louisville or New York can claim.
Assuming final details are worked out, a formal announcement could take place in early August, with the strong likelihood that Santa Anita will land the event in 2012. There is an outside chance Belmont Park will be named the 2013 host site at that time. But no names have yet been signed on the dotted lines.
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