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.

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