CRAWFORD | Breeders' Cup's return to Churchill Downs: A winning - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Breeders' Cup's return to Churchill Downs: A winning bet for all

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Breeders' Cup president and CEO Craig Farvel, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, Breeders' Cup chairman Bill Farish and Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Breeders' Cup president and CEO Craig Farvel, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, Breeders' Cup chairman Bill Farish and Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- If you race cars, you want to do it at the Brickyard. If you play golf, you want to do it at Augusta National. And if you want to have the World Championship of horse racing, you need to make frequent stops at Churchill Downs.

That's what they were smiling about on a stage at Churchill Downs Monday morning, Churchill Downs management with Breeders' Cup officials and Louisville mayor Greg Fischer together to announce that horse racing's richest two-day event will return to the historic Louisville racetrack.

And this is how it ought to be.

Horse racing's Super Bowl and its premier iconic facility, together again, on Nov. 2-3, 2018.

When the Breeders' Cup comes to Kentucky, special things happen. We saw Blame and Zenyatta's stretch battle in 2010. We saw Alysheba in 1988. We saw Hall of Famer Tiznow win the first of his back-to-back Classics in 2000 and another Hall of Famer, Invasor, win it in 2006. And, most importantly, we always saw throngs of people and boatloads of money. A year ago, we saw Triple Crown winner American Pharoah make history.

But that race wasn't at Churchill Downs. It was at Keeneland, which put its own stamp on the historic event. It set a standard for smaller tracks in putting on the richest event in the game, and opened the eyes of many around the nation who would like to make the same effort.

Churchill Downs is a different animal. It is the biggest stage in the sport. Since the Breeders' Cup went to a 2-day event in 2007, its two largest attendance years were at Churchill Downs -- 114,353 in 2010 and 105,820 in 2011. The event's record handle was in 2010, when $173,857,967 was wagered. As a single-day event, its four largest attendance dates were at Churchill Downs.

"It's obviously an exciting day for us here at Churchill Downs," Churchill  Downs president Kevin Flanery said. "There's nothing like the Breeders' Cup under the Spires. We've had some incredible moments the eight previous times the event has been here."

By the time the Breeders' Cup returns, it will have been away from Churchill for seven years, the longest stretch since it was founded in 1984. There had been rumblings of a chill in relations between the track and the event's organizers after Churchill last played host to the Breeders' Cup in 2011.

Churchill was delivering its largest crowds and handles, and some speculated that it wanted more of the proceeds. There's no question, playing host to the Breeders' Cup involves a great deal of work, a disruption in the fall meet, shifting of stable space, and more logistic challenges.

At the same time, there are benefits to the city as a whole when the Breeders' Cup comes. Hotel rooms fill up, restaurants do business, liquor flows. All right, liquor flows regardless, but there is an economic impact.

A year ago, Flanery told his team that Churchill was going to make an effort to get the Breeders' Cup in 2018. There were signs of a thaw last August, when Churchill Downs' Inc.'s TwinSpires.com announced a multi-year agreement to become the Breeders' Cup's official online wagering partner.

All along, both sides denied any reports of a rift. And a harrow had smoothed over any of that talk on Monday.

"This management team and the folks at the Breeders' Cup get along great," Flanery said. "We know them and like them and have worked with them."

Breeders' Cup chairman and CEO Craig Fravel acknowledged some things Churchill Downs brings to the event that no other racing facility in the country brings, and pointed to millions in improvements at the track in recent years, including the sixth-floor "Mansion," the huge video screen, new terrace seating on the North side of the facility and $18 million in current renovations to premium seating. More improvements will happen, but Flanery wouldn't discuss those Monday.

"Our friends here at Churchill Downs in the equine community sometimes get less than a fair shake," Fravel said. "There has been, in my view, no track that has invested more money in their facility, trying to upgrade their customer experience, and done some really remarkable things."

Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, who also has been a part of the talks, noted that the city itself will have more to offer than it did when the Breeders' Cup last came.

"Louisville in 2018 is going to be quite an evolved city from the last time the Breeders' Cup was held here, with 5,000 hotel rooms, a 50 percent increase over the last time the Breeders' Cup was here," he said. "Our horse racing fans in the city have been wanting this for a long time."

If you look at the renovation of sports facilities around the nation, more and more, they are working to build the kind of amenities that Churchill Downs has had in place for some time.

For a long time, horse racing has been portrayed as a dying sport. And let's be honest, on a national scale, it is a niche sport. Yet when you look at what going to the races entails, it is exactly what the sports fan in 2016 would seem to want -- comfortable surroundings, the ability to watch the events live and on video, plenty of time for socializing, and of course, the element of wagering. If there's a big future for the sport, and for a lot of sports as on-site spectator events, it probably looks a lot like what they've done on the entertainment side of Churchill Downs.

"I say all the time, we can throw whatever party you want, all on the same day," Flanery said.

A tax break for the track that plays host to the Breeders' Cup will have to be renewed by the Kentucky General Assembly if Churchill Downs is to receive it in 2018. The break is estimated at $1 million, and often is passed along to the Breeders' Cup itself. Flanery said he hoped there would be little trouble seeing that break passed by the state legislature in January.

It should be. Whatever differences the parties may or may not have had over the past several years, this is one instance in which two powerful horse racing interests have come back together to do the right thing.

That kind of thing ought to be encouraged.

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