There's significant buzz right now speculating about the location of the 2013 BC meet. The Paulick Report has an article up asserting that Monmouth is the front runner. The championship meet certainly is due for a return to the New York area, where it has not been since 2005 when it was at Belmont Park. Prior to that, the New York City tracks had held the meet around every 5 years or so with Belmont taking the lion's share and Monmouth and Aqueduct holding one meet apiece. While it is undeniable that the hype and coverage produced by the New York media is invaluable to the sport, I am not convinced that it is the best location for the meet.
Since 2000, the Breeders' Cup Championship meet has been held at the following locations:
- 2012 - Santa Anita Park
- 2011 - Churchill Downs
- 2010 - Churchill Downs
- 2009 - Santa Anita Park
- 2008 - Santa Anita Park
- 2007 - Monmouth Park
- 2006 - Churchill Downs
- 2005 - Belmont Park
- 2004 - Lone Star Park
- 2003 - Santa Anita Park
- 2002 - Arlington Park
- 2001 - Belmont Park
- 2000 - Churchill Downs
The one clear outlier is Lone Star Park. Every other location makes complete sense: a metropolitan area's signature track. Recently, with the addition of lights at Churchill and the meet being held on the West Coast, the BC has shown the preference to be able to broadcast their event in prime time on national television.
So where does that leave Monmouth? I personally agree with the Paulick Report in that I would stay away from the turmoil of the NYRA and the state appointed board for the next few years. Especially with BC trying to enforce their own furosemide ban for 2 year old races. Additionally, I'm not sure if starting the 10 furlong Classic on the turn at Belmont is the best option. Monmouth is definitely the most attractive of the NYC options as of right now, based on the fact that the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association basically owns and operates the track, so it should be easy to deal with. But is it the best location?
The following are the Location, TV ratings, and Broadcast Network for each year from 2000-2011:
- 2011 - Churchill Downs - 1.2 rating - ESPN
- 2010 - Churchill Downs - 3.1 rating - ESPN
- 2009 - Santa Anita Park - 1.0 rating - ESPN
- 2008 - Santa Anita Park - 1.0 rating - ESPN
- 2007 - Monmouth Park - 0.7 rating - ESPN
- 2006 - Churchill Downs - 0.9 rating - ESPN
- 2005 - Belmont Park - 1.7 rating - NBC
- 2004 - Lone Star Park - 1.4 rating - NBC
- 2003 - Santa Anita Park - 1.8 rating - NBC
- 2002 - Arlington Park - 1.2 rating - NBC
- 2001 - Belmont Park - 1.7 rating - NBC
- 2000 - Churchill Downs - 1.8 rating - NBC
Huge bump from Zenyatta's second run at the the BC Classic. It becomes obvious that the Breeders' Cup needed out of the ESPN family of networks since ESPN was clearly not promoting the event as well as they should/could have. The other factor is that the meets held during prime time (or as close as reasonably possible) have recently rated better than those held in east coast daylight hours. A 0.3 increase from Monmouth to Santa Anita is a 45ish% increase in viewers and is a big deal. Since Churchill installed lights, they can run at any hour of the day.
The other big factor is handle. But with a huge meet like Breeders' Cup, the on track handle is large, but it does not seem to be affected by location, merely by the growth of the event:
- 2011 - Churchill Downs - $161m
- 2010 - Churchill Downs - $174m
- 2009 - Santa Anita Park - $153m
- 2008 - Santa Anita Park - $155m
- 2007 - Monmouth Park - $147m
- 2006 - Churchill Downs - $140m
- 2005 - Belmont Park - $123m
- 2004 - Lone Star Park - $120m
- 2003 - Santa Anita Park -$120m
- 2002 - Arlington Park - $116m
- 2001 - Belmont Park - $104m
- 2000 - Churchill Downs - $108m
Clearly the popularity of the event at the bettor's window has increased over the past dozen years. Combine the growing interest in betting on some of the best racing in the world with the switch back to a network that seems to value high quality horse racing events more than any other and a propensity for showing the races in prime time should definitely keep Breeders' Cup at the forefront of the media coverage.
But does it need a permanent home? I think there are two questions that need to be answered herein. First, does any site provide a distinct advantage over any other? Second, does the stability provided by a single host provide an advantage?
First question- Churchill Downs seems to show a tick upwards in total handle each time it hosts the event. And maybe the same for TV ratings, though the switch to ESPN and Zenyatta may skew that perception. Santa Anita performs well. Arlington's numbers are solid, but it has synthetic, which I think BC is trying to avoid. The rest are relatively even. The wildcard in all of this is the ability for a track to put on a true prime time card. SA and CD can do that with zero issues, in fact, the lights at CD even make the coverage that much more dramatic. No other track can really do that.
Second question- Honestly, the two year rotation works for me. But a shorter rotation would bode well too. There are currently four major racing circuits: New York (AQU, BEL, SAR, MON), Florida (GP, CAL, TB), the Midwest (CD, KEE, ARL, OP), and California (SA, HOL, DEL). BC seems to have little interest in Florida as the only Florida track to host the meet is Gulfstream, and last in 1999 (plus weather is always a factor). New York has their issues with nightfall coming very early in November, which excludes true prime time racing (and it's cold, potentially very cold). Additionally, the problems the NYRA has had (the OTB dust up and the NYRA board takeover) recently must be a deterrent. So that leaves Churchill and SA.
My bias towards my home track is evident. But I honestly think that a two year rotation between Los Angeles and Louisville would be the best model. Two of the signature tracks in North America with dirt surfaces, prime time broadcasting capabilities, and immaculate (and luxury) facilities clearly provide the best venues for the best sites and TV coverage. If Arlington goes back to dirt, or Monmouth puts in lights (BEL is probably just too big to effectively illuminate), or any number of other changes happen the rotation should be reevaluated. But let's stop guessing every year and have some stability.
And if BC is at Churchill, it dovetails nicely with Fasig-Tipton's November Sale and Keeneland's November Breeding Stock Sale in Lexington. Seriously, they bumped both sales' start dates back one day to allow for travel from the west coast to Kentucky this year.