LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Keeneland deserves this spotlight moment.
The Breeders’ Cup made it official on Tuesday, awarding the Lexington track its two-day championship event, the richest days in thoroughbred racing, to be held Oct. 30 and 31, 2015.
When word first drifted out, the questions in this town were, “Why not Churchill Downs? What’s going on?” Despite denials to the contrary, something, of course, is going on between Churchill Downs and Breeders’ Cup officials. Churchill has been the site of the event’s most successful and lucrative performances. The problem likely lies in the fact that Churchill Downs Inc., quite understandably, would like to share in a larger percentage of that success.
Regardless, the Breeders’ Cup landing at Keeneland is something that should’ve happened anyway, and something that should be celebrated.
The Breeders’ Cup was born in Lexington, and remains headquartered there. It returns to the state where horse racing means the most, and to the very spot where champion horses have been sold by the hundreds over the years. Lexington is the epicenter of Kentucky’s bustling breeding industry, an industry that, despite operating without the kind of boost other states have mustered with proceeds from gaming, remains at the top of its field.
The Keeneland Association is the world’s largest thoroughbred auction company. Its sales every January, April, September and November produce horses who dominate racing around the world at every level. Keeneland sale graduates include 77 horses that have won 83 Breeders’ Cup races.
“The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland is a homecoming for many of these great champions who were foaled and raised at Central Kentucky farms, and often sold at Keeneland,” Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason said. “The Keeneland team feels that sense of connection and history with the Breeders’ Cup, and we look forward to offering fans an extraordinary racing and entertainment experience.”
Keeneland is a place, really, unlike any other in horse racing. It’s been described as a “boutique” track, picturesque and pastoral. It is a keeper of tradition in horse racing, though the addition of a synthetic surface continued a break with some of those. Keeneland didn’t have a track announcer until 1997; it was the last track in North America, in fact, to run races without a public address announcer. It holds, on its grounds, an extensive reference library on the history of horse racing, and the facility itself offers a kind of step back in time, so much so that most of the racing scenes in the film Seabiscuit were filmed there.
“Throughout its storied history, Keeneland has developed an extraordinary reputation for delivering a first-class racing and hospitality product,” Breeders’ Cup president Bill Farish said. “We are excited to bring the Breeders’ Cup home to Lexington and are energized by the support from the local community and the breeders of Central Kentucky who have been such a vital part of our program since its inception.”
There will be logistical challenges. Keeneland is working on a plan that will increase its permanent grandstand seating to 21,000, and will add high-end tents to its clubhouse side, as well as making seats available in its sales pavilion.
A new dirt track is being installed, the quality of which will be monitored closely during the coming fall meet and the track’s meet next spring.
It will be a lot of work. Handling the crowd — finding places for the crowd to park, finding places for the crowd to be entertained once on the premises — these are the challenges the track staff will be working on for the next year.
A couple of important notes: Keeneland won’t have to install lights. By holding the event before Daylight Savings Time hits next year, race officials believe there will be plenty of light. And Keeneland will have to begin its 2015 Fall meet a week early, which would mean an overlap with Churchill Downs, but it’s a change the state Racing Commission should make enthusiastically.
Frankly the decision by Breeders' Cup officials that bigger isn't always better is one I'm glad to see. Keeneland, like 2016 Breeders' Cup site Del Mar, is important to the fabric of the sport.
The City of Lexington, Keeneland Race Course, the Kentucky Horse Park, Central Kentucky horse farms and the surrounding region all are big winners in this event. It puts an international spotlight on them all.
And there may not be anyplace in the world of horse racing that deserves that spotlight more.