Churchill Downs hosted the 35th edition of the Breeders’ Cup this year. Holding the event at the home of the Kentucky Derby highlighted the fact that the Breeders’ Cup still suffers from Derby envy. It is time for it to come of age.

The initial step for the Breeders’ Cup is to own its own day. Make it a one-day event again. The 13 Breeders’ Cup races comprise a full card unto itself.

Interest on Friday suffers for two reasons. People lack the time to devote to Friday’s races because it is a work day and the public lacks a two-day interest span.

A one-day event with 13 championship races and no other races run nationwide will own the day. Tracks that want to run against the Breeders’ Cup will offer blowback, but Breeders’ Cup Ltd. is now strong enough to flex its muscles.


Coming of age also involves owning your own house. To that end, Breeders’ Cup Ltd. should buy a permanent home for its event in a city with a warm climate and hold the event later in November, on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. HRI’s Tom Jicha has long suggested moving to this date.

New Orleans is a southern city that knows how to host a party. Its racetrack, the Fairgrounds, for many years opened its meeting on Thanksgiving, although more recently it has opened earlier. But Thanksgiving still has a special place for local racing fans. If the Breeders’ Cup chose New Orleans as its permanent home, the city would probably throw an annual parade.

Churchill Downs owns the Fairgrounds. Would it give up hosting the event at its flagship racetrack? Maybe it would for the right price. Churchill Downs Inc. has a fiduciary responsibility to its stockholders to maximize profits.

A Churchill Downs Breeders’ Cup T-shirt begat this idea. The 2018 official apparel featured the Breeders’ Cup horse head logo inside a large fleur de lis, the symbol of New Orleans.

I am not sure exactly what message was intended but it was clear to me. The Breeders’ Cup logo inside a fleur de lis says the Breeders’ Cup belongs in New Orleans.

Own the track, too

As long as we are thinking outside the oval, Breeders’ Cup Ltd. should buy the track and build a modern facility. If the Breeders’ Cup is to come of age and shake off its Derby envy it should showcase the sport’s most important day as never before at the racetrack of the future.

There needs to be feasibility and environmental studies as Fairgrounds sits within a residential neighborhood. However, in a city where everything is touched with a bit of fraud and graft, there is always a way to accomplish a goal.

The designers of the new track need to make sure the turf is wide and long and suitable to the Europeans. Build it outside a one-mile dirt surface that has a chute for ten-furlong races.

Whatever the outcome, they must avoid a design that comes up a half-furlong short as happened in Maryland. The 15/16th mile track proposed for a redesigned Pimlico was a mistake of historic proportion. The Preakness would have to start on the turn. Ridiculous!

A new viewing experience

Richie Havens was forward thinker. His future view helped him as a musical artist, a visual artist and an inventor. He thought outside the oval and inside the oval at the same time. His view of the future for horse racing was to shoot the race with cameras mounted atop towers in the infield.

I have been there. Many of the timing installations were operated from the infield tote board when I worked for Teletimer. It is quite a unique and exciting experience to watch the race unfold around you.

Havens’ idea was to watch the race from a rotating seat inside a theater for one. If the grandstand is constructed in the infield, all fans could enjoy the old experience in a new way.

Most of the time the infield is wasted with large expanses of grass and a pond or two. It is the place for overflow crowds and parties. Since the party is always in the infield, why not bring the grandstand to the party?

The Breeders’ Cup needs to capture the public’s attention year round with inventive new bets. It already supports a season-long Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series of nearly 100 stakes races that includes 20 win-and-you’re in races. It should take advantage of the newly legalized sports betting by offering cross sport wagers.

Breeders’ Cup Ltd. should offer daily double wagers with each challenge race and a game in the sport of the season. A Breeders’ Cup double combining a challenge race with the winner of a game, be it NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB, would be a good way to promote horse racing with sports gamblers.

The Breeders’ Cup has already offered a few head-to-head wagers. We need more. Proposition wagers, in-race wagering and maybe some new options like betting on the horse to run the fastest first quarter-mile would offer bets to experienced race trackers and newbies alike.

We are talking about Louisiana after all. Bring in enough tourist business and get any wagering desired.

New Jersey has already adopted some of these bets and Equibase is gearing up with the intent to offer similar wagers to the European and Far Eastern markets.

Thoroughbred racing needs to figure out a way to embrace sports betting before it is painted into a very small corner. The Kentucky Derby, steeped in history, is unlikely to make any major changes, but the Breeders’ Cup can shed its Derby envy if it can lead this sport into the future.

By Mark Berner