Despite Differences, Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland Will Shine

by | 06.24.2014 | 4:25pm

What took so long?

That's the only question I had after watching the video presentation and seeing the plans for a first-ever “homecoming” Breeders' Cup at Keeneland in 2015.

I've made no secret of the fact I think Keeneland would be a unique and deserving host site for racing's year-end championships. Lexington and the surrounding communities, which are proud to say Central Kentucky is the Thoroughbred capital of the world, will embrace the event like no one has before.

But a Breeders' Cup at Keeneland will be different and not everyone is going to like it.

For starters, Keeneland is small, and no amount of temporary seating is going to make it as desirable for watching a live horse race as other tracks with bigger grandstands. Santa Anita Park and Belmont Park come to mind in that regard. Parking won't be as easy, either, and traffic going into and out of Keeneland can be brutal on big days, like when 40,000 people attended the 2012 Blue Grass Stakes. Officials at Keeneland and Breeders' Cup will make it work.

They can take a lesson from the PGA of America, which hosted 40,000 fans a day for six consecutive days when the Ryder Cup was held in September 2008 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.

Valhalla has no permanent seats and virtually no parking. People who attended – from the dedicated golf fans lucky enough to get a ticket to executives affiliated with corporate sponsors – were moved in and out efficiently with a fleet of buses. They sat in temporary bleachers, walked the course, or enjoyed the luxurious accommodations of marquis suites and large tents. Bathroom facilities were temporary, no matter how much your ticket cost.

When it was over, many of those who attended asked, “How soon is it coming back?” There's been no repeat Ryder Cups at Valhalla but the PGA Championships will be held there in August. Officials have cleared some areas for viewing and upped their ticket allotment to 46,000 per day. They're all sold out.

Keeneland will have a total of 21,000 reserved seats, which will include the sale pavilion and entertainment center, the latter located several furlongs from the nearest horse. That's not quite up to the 26,000 seats Santa Anita has, but it's close enough.

Will general admission into the track be cut off at some point? Keeneland CEO Bill Thomason isn't ready to say that's a possibility, not yet. He said his team's emphasis will be on providing a quality experience for those patrons attending rather than going for the biggest on-track crowd they can get. Conceivably, however, some people could get shut out from attending.

If the 2015 Breeders' Cup is a “sell out,” that will only reinforce my opinion that bringing it “home” to Keeneland and the Thoroughbred capital of the world was the right thing to do.

The original version of this story indicated no previous Breeders' Cup had sold out at the ticket office. The 2004 event at Lone Star Park, which attracted a crowd of 53,717, was considered a sellout.

  • betterthannothing

    Keeneland does everything right and will do the B.C. right too!

  • Lost In The Fog – Robert Lee

    Keeneland is a wonderful track and it is well designed for hosting the quality boutique meets it is best known for. it is, however, a bad choice as a venue for the Breeders’ Cup. Attendance will inevitably be capped, everyday horse racing fans will be shut out, parking will be a nightmare, and views of the racing will be limited and compromised for many (perhaps most) in attendance. And if it rains this will be a full-blown catastrophe! The BC at Keeneland will be the ultimate exclusive “insiders” event, totally skewed towards the monied interests in the sport and celebrities.

  • UKBlue

    Keeneland is awesome, but this is going to make a packed BG Stakes feel like a walk in the park. They better hope to God it doesn’t rain because they will defiantly not have enough cover. Keeneland also needs to someday move the escalator that goes from the 2nd floor to the downstairs betting paddock area; people trying to go upstairs always stand in the way blocking people from getting off the escalator, and it is beyond dangerous. Hope this works at Keeneland because the last thing the industry needs is another of it’s many a black eye. Trying to compare BC at Keeneland & the PGA at Valhalla is ridiculous.

  • UKBlue

    Yes BC at Keeneland should be a sell out especially since hello it’s way smaller then Churchill, Belmont, and Santa Anita.

  • Btown

    Nowhere near enough really nice hotel rooms in cow-town LEX to host all the hoi polloi that come to the BC only to be seen. Upon the mere rumor of hosting the 2015 version, several luxury hotels immediately sold out. Watch and see. I live in Bardstown and will rent my giant house out for a giant price at the last minute in OCT 2015. Cha-Ching !

    • If Dutrow’s back in racing by then, put him up in the outhouse.

      • Bellwether

        Don you can’t put him where he already is!!!…Do you think 10 years was to strong???…

        • This would imply that the entire state of Florida is an outhouse.

          In which case, I am glad that you responded.

          Your rejoinder might be justified.

          200 years would have been a charitable sentence.

          • Bellwether

            One more thing…Do you believe The Jockey Club/Breeders Cup/NTRA/ and the other clubs (/Horse owners/Track owners/HBPA/Jockeys) have the backbone to finally take control of the Cheating/Drugs/Animal Abuse and start locking people up for FIXING (IHA) any T Bred Horse race in North America???…ps…Lets hope these people (all of the above) have finally seen the train coming…

          • Not in a million years. You can’t herd cats that have the brains of mice.

          • Bellwether

            They all piss me and a whole lot of Horse People/Gamblers and Fans off…Its a DISGRACE…ty…

    • Teresa Bossow

      They just had the world equestrian games in 2010 and they had plenty of hotels. The world cup drew more people from all over the world than the BC will

  • EG

    Having the Cup to Keeneland like having the Final Four at Cameron Indoor Stadium or Pauley Pavilion. Both are fabulous venues with extraordinary history but completely unsuitable for such an event. I love Keeneland, but I have no desire to attend a BC there.

    • Lost In The Fog – Robert Lee

      Well said. That is a perfect analogy!

      • CD Fan

        Concerned Observer is right. The Breeders Cup is only for industry insiders and KY politicians. It’s not for the average Joe who works in a factory, or works in an office. The BC is an elite event for the elite, by the elite. The average fan is no longer welcome at top Horse Racing events. Sadly, and I love Keeneland, Keeneland, which used to be the average man’s track, is slowly dismissing the average man.

        • we’re watching

          There is no average Joe on the board. Who represents blue collar, who represents the bettor. No one. It should be about the breeder first and the breeder’s horse. But the bettor should be included to the max.

    • Concerned Observer

      Ironic that the same day the JC announces that racehorse ownership is down 25%, the BC decides to hold the event in a location where most of the audience is made up of existing owners. Keeneland will hold a good event, but it is not the place to convert a large audience into enthuusiasts. BC should be in large key markets to convert as many fans on the sidelines as possible into dedicated owners and bettors. Sadly,this is another example of the constant inward focus of the industry.
      This is not about Keeneland, I love Keeneland, this is about the future of the industry.

      • nu-fan

        Have you been able to figure out what the objectives and goals are for this event? I sure haven’t. Would have thought that one of the primary goals and objectives for this (and other major racing events) would be to bring in new fans. Instead, they seem to be making that circle smaller and excluding other parts of the country by keeping this as their own private party and in their own backyard.

  • MA

    “…dedicated golf fans lucky enough to get a ticket to executives affiliated with corporate sponsors …He said his team’s emphasis will be on providing a quality experience for those patrons attending rather than going for the biggest on-track crowd they can get.”
    Elitism. That’s where the Breeders’ Cup organization and event has been heading for years now, and is obviously continuing on that path with Keeneland and Del Mar. It’s about the [perceived] quality of people who enjoy the event, not the quantity of people. It’s about the people who pay the most for their tickets, not the people who care most about the results of the races.

  • “They can take a lesson from the PGA of America…”

    — Which is a NATIONAL organization with the ability to attract waves of competent applicants for positions; the power to hire & fire anyone they wish; to set their “takeout” rates without interference from politicians; & to be able to hold their sponsored golf matches on any course in any state where, invariably, the facilities are modern & efficient in design.

    Their golf matches are, for about nine months a year, held on a weekly basis, which means no one gets rusty & they know just how many people to hire to get the job done in response to the demand.

    Imagine their horror if they were to personally witness the unrehearsed BC events with last-minute hires running around with their heads cut off (1999 Gulfstream, 2007 Monmouth Park, etc.), & badly-instructed & sincere “temps” trying to accommodate the betting public.

    Their relationship with TV networks’ sports department is obviously much deeper & far more
    profitable, for both parties.

    Both parties have much higher professional standards than witnessed in the TV-racetrack orbit (can you imagine Johnny Weir at the 18th hole doing a fashion interview?!).

    There is NO suspicion of fixed golf matches.

    Golf is a sport with a very desirable economy of scale, and even better, a much, much larger fan base than racing. Name one horse, one jockey, one trainer or one owner who has one-tenth the name & face recognition of Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods.

    The PGA of America executives & staff are not, & would laugh uproariously in unison at the
    very thought of their existence being entirely dependent on parasitical casinos, often owned by remote & ruthless foreign corporations.

    Not only that, they don’t have state governments publically hijacking their business, — insisting, for instance, that a carpetbagger from Cornell who knows nothing about the
    subject become the CEO of the PGA of America (or for that matter, the Smithsonian).

    For all of these reasons, a comparison of The PGA with the BC outfit is honorable but wishful

    • we’re watching

      I was at both BC in 1999 at GP and 2007 at Mth. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the presentation at these events. So it rained at the Jersey shore, so what, get over it for crying out loud.

      • The BC at GP in 1999 was an absolute madhouse.

        And the deluge at Monmouth Park had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the NJ state betting organization had had SEVEN YEARS prior warning
        that they would have to upgrade their New Jersey Account Wagering internet betting system to order to be able to accommodate the vastly increased number of bets being made.

        They did nothing.

        Big Surprise: The BC-scale betting volume hit their Rube Goldberg-designed software. NJAW’s systems crashed.

        For most of the remaining races on both days (since it crashed again on Sunday), fans at home with NJAW accounts could not bet on the races.

        Money poured in from successful advance bets (eventually) with no explanation of what races were involved. That was amusing.

        Since this already notorious NJAW-Edsel system was also the only electronic betting conduit into the track, out-of-state bettors also could not bet on the BC.

        The system-crashing instantly guaranteed that the event would lose millions of dollars, which it did (purses & expenses had to be paid with money that hadn’t been collected from Accounts Receivable).

        That tab had to be paid for by the New Jersey taxpayers.

        In the middle of all this, you had a great time.

        Good for you.

        • Cougar Paisley

          2007 Monmouth was a disaster for customer service for those that attended. The hiring of temporary staff for the two days just doesn’t cut it. Much of the temps were uninformed, ill-equipped, or just didn’t care.

          Unless, you were fortunate enough to be invited to the NJSEA’s marquee tented areas or Sheikh Mohammed’s pavilion, your BC experience was a miserable one, notwithstanding the rain.

          Only those that heisted the Grey Goose came out ahead for the day.

          • First time I’ve heard about the SM tent. The contrast between the event itself melting down and the Sheik’s tent doubtlessly being run efficiently, I am positive, did not go unnoticed.

            This also suggests that it gave the Monmouth management a chance to go into the tent and sulk.

  • wallyhorse

    They may do everything right, but say in May of next year at the time of the up-fronts, Comcast (parent company of NBC) decides they want lights at Keeneland so they have at least the Friday BC races as an option to run in prime time on NBC in place of scheduled programming that tanked and can move it from NBCSN on short notice. Do you REALLY think if the head of NBC Sports or NBC Entertainment “strongly suggested” to BC Ltd. and Keeneland that Keeneland needed to install lights that BC Ltd. and Keeneland would ignore such a “strong suggestion?” I think then, BC Ltd. and Keeneland would have two options: Install lights or that BC is moved to Churchill Downs or another venue capable of racing at night EVEN IF it’s not stated they are required to. That’s a scenario I can seen Comcast wanting for Friday, especially if NBC wants to have it scheduled on NBCSN from 9:00-11:00 PM ET with a provision that it can be moved to NBC in the event their prime time programming tanks and they have to make a change on say 48 hours notice. Networks today have FAR greater power of sports leagues than you might think. This is not just NBC, but ANY network.

    That said, the most likely scenario and the ONLY reason Keeneland may be able to get away without lights is the fact that NASCAR is going back to NBC in 2015. Since that weekend likely is the Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (which has lights) based on recent years, that can be switched from a Sunday afternoon to a Saturday night race if NBC wants, and if so could have the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland be a direct lead-in to that race (a lot of that is going to likely be switched up anyway next year as new TV contracts for NASCAR kick in).

    • Barbara Bowen

      Did someone say, “lights”?

      • wallyhorse

        Problem is, Comcast (NBC’s parent) can likely re-visit that whether its in the contract or not later this year once the NASCAR schedule is announced. The best case scenario for NBC and the BC would be that the BC runs to around 6:45 PM ET with a NASCAR race immediately afterwards, but even with that, I’m sure if Comcast decides by say next May they want a nighttime BC because they want the 18-49 year old audience whom ad buyers crave, they will contract or otherwise “strongly suggest” Keeneland install lights. Like I said, do you REALLY think if the head of NBC Sports or NBC Entertainment says to install lights and move the BC to prime time (and create inconveniences for many) that BC Ltd. and Keeneland would ignore that? If they did, it would be AT THEIR OWN PERIL and any other network would do the same. Times have changed drastically in that regard.

        Best example of this was in 2011 when CBS had already used their one prime time SEC window in October and you had Alabama and LSU, coming up (ironically the same DAY as the ’11 BC at Churchill). CBS, working on VERY short notice had the game moved to prime time even though it was NOT specified in the contract they could do that. Given THAT precedent, NBC can very easily tell Keeneland later on they want lights and if so, Keeneland would have no choice no matter what any contract states. Comcast in my opinion has ALL the leverage on this one.

        • Barbara Bowen

          For all PR reader’s sake, I did not read this reply.

      • Count_FleetofFoot

        I’m just curious as to why this poster’s message was deleted while all the other one-note johnnies are apparently left unmolested?

      • Those dates we will still be on EDT so still plenty of light for a 5:30 classic – remember it was virtually dark when Alysheba won the classic at CD in 1988 on November 5 (EST).

    • tiznow90

      Ray, please, PLEASE, do something.

      • Bellwether

        HE deleted it…What more can he do???…

  • Bellwether

    That Crowd has the ‘Augusta National’ of Horse Racing (and knows how to put on a show) in America will pull it off with flying colors…Keeneland will do one hell of a job and make T Bred Horse Racing look real good in the process!!!…They deserve the shot…Period…

  • D.C.W.

    Keeneland will make it work but as i said in the past say good by to the way it was. It will become just another fenced in prison for horses and stable help. A street walker payed for with a poly track ,cut down those trees put up the worlds biggest 3d horse hiding screen yes thats what we need and how about a water slide.

  • we’re watching

    This is great, finally moved it out of SoCal. Whoops, spoke too soon. The next year it is back in Santa Anita. WHY?? DelMar the next year will be a nice experiment, but then where will it go??

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