LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 5th: Jockey Mike Smith celebrates in the winners circle after riding Drosselmeyer to victory to win the Breeders' Cup Classic during the 2011 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on November 5, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
As noted in a FanShot by TFTribe about an hour ago, the Daily Racing Form is reporting that Santa Anita Park, host site for the 2012 Breeders' Cup, will also host the 2013 festivities, beating out Churchill Downs and Monmouth Park in the process.
Early on in the process for awarding the 2013 site, it was believed that Belmont was the front-runner given the absence of the event from New York over the last decade. Unfortunately, the whole NYRA debacle probably got in the way of that idea, which left the Breeders' Cup without a lot of options. In fact, I think it's safe to assume that the Breeders' Cup, unless they are going to start "thinking outside the box", has only four choices in terms of locations to hold their annual event: Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, Monmouth Park and Belmont. Let's look at the situation as it stands today with the major racing facilities around the country:
Arlington Park: Great facility, wonderful turf course and has hosted a Breeders' Cup before, but with the addition of Polytrack it is likely never to see it the event again.
Del Mar: Polytrack. Like Arlington, I would think that's pretty much a no-go after the fits many connections had after the two Breeders' Cups over the synthetic surface at Santa Anita.
Gulfstream: The major renovations of the grandstand left it with a pitifully small seating capacity. No chance unless they wanted to bring in about 50,000 temporary seats.
Hollywood: Has the physical size to host (and has hosted in the past), but has a synthetic main track... and might be a shopping mall in the near future.
Keeneland: Historically significant track and probably could add enough temporary seating to make it viable (like Monmouth and Arlington) but the Polytrack pretty much ends any thought of running the Breeders' Cup in Lexington, which is a shame.
Tampa Bay Downs: Has dirt but a small physical plant. Doubtful.
Lone Star Park: Has dirt and has hosted it before but I've heard nothing in the chatter that they are in any kind of position to bid for the Breeders' Cup in the future. Possible, but unlikely.
Oaklawn: Dirt main track but no turf course.
Pimlico: Personally, I loved Pimlico when I was there for this year's Preakness, but I doubt the Maryland Jockey Club is in a position to bid for the BC.
Aqueduct. Hosted the event before but unlikely to ever hold it again. Belmont is much more likely.
Fair Grounds: I'm not sure how big the grandstand is compared to tracks like Monmouth or Arlington, but it's got dirt and a turf course. Perhaps the Big Easy would be a good spot to try out some day?
Hawthorne: Doubtful; probably not large enough grandstand and would need tons of temporary seats.
Golden Gate Fields: Synthetic. Seating issues.
Saratoga: I think the Spa could work as a Breeders' Cup host, but you got to wonder about the weather in that area in early November.
Woodbine: Has hosted before but now has Polytrack and there are certainly some weather concerns.
As you run through that list you'll there are very few locations that actually fit with the event as currently constructed by the Breeders' Cup. You need a big grandstand generally capable of 50 or 60,000 seats, a turf course (preferably not one as tight as Del Mar), a dirt main track and, preferably, some decent weather. Oh, and a jurisdiction in a position to bid on the Cup.
I'll be honest, as a fan I'm disappointed at the lack of location diversity with the Breeders' Cup the last few years. Santa Anita and Churchill are great locations, no doubt, but the idea of the Breeders' Cup was always to be a Super Bowl of horse racing by rotating around the country. Unfortunately, given the state of many of today's tracks, especially the synthetic ones, the Breeders' Cup is left with little choice but to rotate the event around the usual cast of characters.
Personally, I wouldn't be against putting the Breeders' Cup all on one day again and splitting the races up between two tracks (one for all the turf races and one for all the dirt races). We could run a race every 20 to 25 minutes all day long and it would allow the Breeders' Cup to locate to a place like Keeneland for the turf races and Churchill for the dirt. Or maybe Oaklawn for the dirt races and Arlington Park for the turf events. I think that would be an interesting new approach to both spread the wealth of the Cup AND to consolidate the event onto one day because, let's face it, the casual fan has a hard enough time watching on BC Saturday, let alone on a Friday of afternoon.
If the Breeders' Cup doesn't want a new approach... well, we are going to be looking at Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, Belmont and, possibly, Monmouth for the long-term future. I suppose that's not the end of the world as all off those facilities are excellent. But personally, I'd like to see the event stretch its legs a bit more.
A couple of additional thoughts that have been running around in my brain:
What's the ideal track set-up for the Breeders' Cup? When we think of the diversity of the races, there are lot of different configurations to consider when deciding the optimum racing conditions. Consider the following:
- While I know Santa Anita loves their downhill turf course (and it's the only course where I can pick a turf sprint winner fairly consistently), it's the only place in the country where turf sprints are run at 6.5 furlongs and downhill. Everywhere else it's 5 furlongs on a completely flat surface. I personally think the Turf Sprint should be run under the same conditions at Santa Anita.
- What do we consider the Dirt Mile: a two-turn race or a one-turn race? For most East Coast tracks, one mile races on the main track are one-turn affairs. Out west (and at Oaklawn), they are run at two-turns. Do we need consistency with that race because, to me, there's a difference between those two set-ups.
- While the diversity of turf courses isn't a huge issue, size can be an issue. Churchill's turf course is quite narrow and tight, while Belmont and Arlington (and even Gulfstream) boast larger turf courses with bigger turns. With the turf races attracting most of the international competition, should the Breeders' Cup attempt to avoid the typically hard, fast and tight grass courses at many of our tracks?
- What is the ultimate opinion of the Breeders' Cup with respect to synthetic surfaces? This is really the elephant in the room, so to speak. Synthetics aren't dirt. They aren't turf. They are a third surface that (sometimes) plays better for turf horses, but not always. If the Breeders' Cup isn't going to be run on synthetic surfaces in the future (and I have no knowledge either way on that; just guessing), then the Breeders' Cup Challenge races on synthetics make no sense to me. And it gets even more complicated if the BC is on a synthetic surface because, as we've seen with the two events on synthetic at Santa Anita, the dirt horses performed very, very badly. (I'm not anti-synthetic in any way, (I love to play races on synthetics) but it's not dirt, it's a third surface and it needs to be treated as such.)
- I guess as a sort of summary of my thoughts, if I was "Supreme Ruler of the Breeders' Cup", I'd put all 14 races on one day and split the events between two tracks for dirt and turf races. The races would have standardized conditions: one-turn or two-turn mile, five furlongs turf sprint, etc. and we would decide once an for all where we stand on synthetics within the event. Once we decide more clearly "what we want the event to be", I think it becomes easier to push that event forward.