x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Breeders' Cup needs place to call home

The Breeders' Cup has spent the last 27 years travelling around North America and it might be time to settle down.

Hibaayeb, seen here winning the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, is one of six horses from the Godolphin stable who will be in action at the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.
Hibaayeb, seen here winning the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, is one of six horses from the Godolphin stable who will be in action at the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY // The Breeders' Cup has spent the past 27 years travelling around North America.

It might be time to settle down.

The series is considering putting together a rotation of tracks to host racing's Super Bowl, and there is even a possibility of giving the event a permanent home.

The Breeders' Cup this weekend makes its seventh visit to Churchill Downs, Kentucky, where Delegator and Hibaayeb, two of the Breeders' Cup challengers for Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor, stretched their legs this week.

Godolphin's other Breeders' Cup contenders, the US-based Gayego, Girolamo, Sara Louise and Vineyard Haven, arrived at Churchill Downs yesterday while the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Etched was due to arrive today.

"This is the Mecca," D Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame trainer, said of the home of the Kentucky Derby.

It is also one of the few places that can handle an undertaking the size of the Breeders' Cup. The track has six of the top seven single-day attendance marks in Breeders' Cup history as well as the facilities to take on the daunting task of housing more than 160 of the world's top horses.

"They don't have to do a lot," Lukas said. "You don't see a lot of portable bleachers and people making stupid decisions on what we should be doing or where to go. It goes a lot smoother here."

Lukas acknowledges he may have a little bias. He is based at Churchill Downs, though he has collected his record 18 Breeders' Cup wins at seven different tracks.

The series has visited 11 tracks since its inception in 1984, running everywhere from Canada to Florida to California.

The goal of the Breeders' Cup is to promote the sport. While it has worked - organisers are expecting record ticket revenues this weekend with superstar mare Zenyatta trying to make it a perfect 20-0 - Greg Avioli, the Breeders' Cup chief executive, says it may be time for a change. Having a permanent host would help create certain traditions, and while Avioli acknowledges it may lead to apathy from the locals, he is not particularly worried about it.

"Whatever you might lose in the local market, you would hope to gain people from the outside market coming in because they know where you're going to be every year," he said.

John Sadler, a California-based trainer, is all for a permanent site for the Breeders' Cup.

His concerns are not so much the travel as the weather, which can be spotty at best in Kentucky in early November.

"You would hope that the big day wouldn't be horribly wet because you would like to see championship races on fast tracks rather than wet tracks," said Sadler, who will saddle three horses this weekend.

The weather might not be great this weekend. There is a chance of showers with the temperature hovering around 10°C on Saturday and likely to dip when the Classic goes off under the lights at 6.45pm.

Compare that to Santa Anita in California, where it will probably be 24°C and sunny.

Avioli said four tracks - Churchill Downs, which will also stage the 2011 races, Belmont Park in New York, Santa Anita and Del Mar in California - are under consideration for the 2012 Breeders' Cup. It is likely any sort of set rotation would come out of those four.