Point: Breeders’ Cup should move around
From its inception through 2007, 10 different tracks hosted the Breeders’ Cup: from Florida to Chicago to Toronto, from New York to LA.
Since then, however, the big day(s) have been on a decidedly more restricted rotation. Santa Anita has hosted seven times since 2007, with three at Churchill and the others at Del Mar and Keeneland, which hosts for the third time this year.
Since 2007, in other words, the Breeders’ Cup has only taken place in Kentucky and Southern California.
There are, of course, plenty of good (and perhaps some less good) reasons for that, and my friend Mike Valiante argues that landing the Breeders’ Cup in a single place – Southern California – would be better yet.
But I can’t help thinking it’s a missed opportunity for a sport that, well, can’t really afford to miss too many opportunities.
Let’s face it: there are only four racing events a year that have even the slightest possibility of reaching the consciousness of someone who’s not a confirmed racing fan already. Three of those – the three Triple Crown events – aren’t moving around.
But the fourth, the Breeders’ Cup, could.
In its first couple of decades, the Breeders’ Cup went to Monmouth Park and Lone Star Park, Woodbine and Gulfstream and Arlington, as well as the traditional power centers of the sport. That, of course, gave those tracks a moment in the sun.
The event was on, it seemed, a mission to bring the best of our sport to as many people as it could. And then, it wasn’t on that mission any longer, and that’s too bad.
In its first two decades, the Breeders’ Cup took the best of racing to venues all over the U. S. and in Canada, and Frank Vespe argues that a return to that would benefit the sport as a whole.
The Breeders’ Cup should find one permanent home, Mike Valiante argues, and that should be in Southern California, where better weather and other factors promote a better product.
Outside of the Triple Crown, horse racing doesn’t move the meter as a sport on the national level. Ask the average sports fan who won the Kentucky Derby this year, and you’ll have a fighting shot at a correct answer. Ask him or her who won any other race and you’ll get a blank stare. Huh?
But it can move a local meter, and at certain times and in certain places, it does so. Part of what makes Saratoga special is that it’s one of the few places where racing really matters outside of the racing bubble. And when the Breeders’ Cup was at Monmouth Park, people I know in New Jersey who have no idea what the Haskell even is were aware that an important horse racing event was coming to town.
That kind of buzz helps build awareness of the sport and can help create new fans and bettors.
Thoroughbred racing is already in a, let’s say, geographically challenging moment. There is, for example, no racing in New England – home to more than 15 million people. Many large metropolitan areas either don’t have racing or have lower tier tracks that don’t generate much interest.
Holding the Breeders’ Cup in a variety of geographic locations won’t change that, of course. But it could help strengthen some existing markets and mint some new fans in those places.
This isn’t racing’s biggest concern by any means. And the Breeders’ Cup board is going to do what it perceives to be best for Breeders’ Cup, as it must.
But just about every other sport moves its championship events around to venues throughout the country or the world. It would be plus for racing if it joined – or rejoined – them in doing the same.