10/22/2015 4:17PM

Breeders’ Cup in uncharted territory at Keeneland

Barbara D. Livingston
Keeneland is adding temporary structures totaling more than 100,000 square feet to accommodate the Breeders’ Cup crowds.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – It’s a seasonal and sunny mid-October day at Keeneland Racecourse, and Bob Elliston, chief operating officer of the Breeders’ Cup, is leaning on the rail of a newly built viewing platform on a grassy area outside the track’s final turn. As if appearing out of thin air, seven horses glide by, nearly noiseless, hugging the inside rail. Keeneland’s grandstand, a good quarter-mile in the distance, is too far away to hear a thing, even though a decent Wednesday crowd is jammed on the apron and anxiously waiting for the horses in the first race to gear up for the final drive.

“That’s pretty weird, isn’t it?” Elliston said, breaking the silence. “But that was cool. This is going to be a really great place.”

Behind Elliston is a zeppelin-class hospitality tent, the kind you’d find at a sheikh’s birthday party. Dozens of tool-toting workers buzz around inside the 45,000-square-foot structure. When the Breeders’ Cup comes to Keeneland for the first time Oct. 30-31, the tent will have been transformed into a wood-paneled luxury space filled with 3,200 racegoers, multiple bars and food stations, and a stage for live music. Adjacent to the tent, toward the grandstand, is a three-story, 42,000-square-foot building that is the first triple-decker temporary structure to be built in North America, its spacious suites already booked to high-rolling corporate customers and sponsors. And next to that is another temporary structure of suites, this one 50,000 square feet and two stories high. It’s sold out, too.

Elliston looks out to Keeneland’s infield as the horses in the first race pass the finish line. For now, it’s a regular Wednesday. The Breeders’ Cup is still more than two weeks away, and it’s eerily quiet for an area that is expected to be the wildest location at any Breeders’ Cup ever.

“All of this is going to be wired up,” Elliston said. “You’re going to have the race call piped in, monitors everywhere, the two Jumbotrons in the infield, people mingling out here and cheering. And look down the stretch. There’s 7,000 people who are going to be between this spot and the grandstand. It is going to be loud.”

It also is going to be unprecedented. Never before has the Breeders’ Cup attempted to do what it is doing this year at Keeneland, and the most visible symbols of that ambition are the massive temporary structures on the far turn that will host nearly a quarter of the people who will have a live view of the races during the two-day event.

Far smaller than its peers and located in a minor-league media market, Keeneland is not your typical Breeders’ Cup host site. But due to its iconic status and location in the heart of the U.S. horse industry, it’s also become the most anticipated event in Breeders’ Cup history. With industry insiders and racing fans together clamoring for a spot at the track, and demand for tickets far exceeding supply, the Breeders’ Cup has embarked on an entirely new strategy for this year’s event, and it has so far taken that plan to the bank.

Collectively, attendees this year have paid approximately $19 million for tickets, nearly twice as much as the patrons who went to any other Breeders’ Cup in history, according to Breeders’ Cup officials, with every reserved seat sold and every general-admission ticket already snapped up. And revenue has hit that level even though attendance this year will be well below half of the event that raised the previous record amount of ticketing revenue, in 2010, when attendance was 114,353 at Churchill Downs over two days and the track had room for thousands more.

But with a new strategy comes unknowns and dangers. Already, the high ticket prices and limitations on attendance have generated complaints that this year’s event is not for the masses. In addition, concern about traffic to and from the track has led the Breeders’ Cup to limit parking passes to 2,500 cars. The vast majority of patrons – the ones who, not coincidentally, have tickets with the lowest face values – will be required to take a taxi to the track or park at one of three off-site locations in and around Lexington, with transportation provided by shuttle buses. That’s an entirely new inconvenience for Breeders’ Cup attendees.

Breeders’ Cup officials acknowledge that they are in uncharted territory for this year’s event, but they also say that they have consulted with and hired all the right people to pull it off. The temporary structures were designed, built, and finished by companies with impressive outdoor-event credentials. The parking plan was put together by a company that has devised the transportation schemes for Super Bowls, and officials say that the plan will be far less frustrating for attendees than battling Lexington’s infamous traffic in their own cars. Catering for the temporary structures is being provided by a company that does approximately 30 major golf events annually.

“They’ve all got this buttoned up really well,” Elliston said. The Breeders’ Cup will spend $5 million on the temporary structures, making it the most expensive event the organization has held. “These are corporate folks who are used to entertaining their very best clients in an upscale manner. That’s who has bought in here. They’ve seen it, walked around here, and they are over the moon with what we’re offering.”

So far, Breeders’ Cup officials have not been precise about how many people will be at Keeneland on Friday and Saturday, in part because the organization plans to count people in the tailgate areas as attendees, even if they will not ever see a live horse. The best estimate, however, is that approximately 32,000 people at Keeneland on Friday and Saturday will be able to watch the races live in some shape or form.

General-admission tickets will allow access to the entire first-floor grandstand, but all areas above the first floor and the clubhouse will be only for those with tickets for designated locations, such as the various dining rooms and the reserved-seating locations set up on the second and third floors.

The Breeders’ Cup sold 10,000 general-admission tickets each day. For those who have been to Keeneland on a Blue Grass Stakes Saturday, when seemingly every square inch of floor space from the ground floor to the third floor is occupied or about to be occupied by a moving target, that number does not sound too large. However, because all the people holding tickets to higher-level spaces can also go down to the first floor, that number could swell with the tide of people at Keeneland who enjoy getting a closer look at the horses in the paddock or from a rail-side race position.

In addition, the total number of 32,000 patrons with a live view of the race also includes the 7,300-plus people who will be in the temporary structures, and, for the most part, those patrons are limited to the spaces within the structures and the grounds surrounding them. As a result, there will be 25,000 people in the grandstand and clubhouse on each day – and that is a number that’s more like a typical Saturday at Keeneland.

The Breeders’ Cup, however, is anything but a typical Saturday. So, Elliston was asked, is it possible that the event has been undersold?

“Obviously, there was tremendous demand, to have that level of support so quickly,” he said, speaking from one of the 220 temporary boxes erected in front of the permanent grandstand and clubhouse boxes. “Did we leave some money on the table? Maybe financially, but we are really, really, really interested, along with Keeneland, our partner, in ensuring people have a wonderful experience. We don’t want to cram the place so full that it’s not a wonderful experience. So, I think it’s right-sized. I’m feeling really good that everyone is going to have a great experience.”

Marc Rogala More than 1 year ago
Friday October 30th BREEDERS CUP WAGERS The final plays 4 Friday’s Breeders Cup day. Best of luck 2 all EL KABEIR is running Saturday at Belmont Park his first race off the injury that stopped him from winning the Kentucky Derby! He is listed at 8-5 going 7 furlongs in the BOLD RULER Gr. III 200k race he will either DESTROY the field or fail and be retired. My thought the connections are smart they placed him well and he did just have a 6f work in 1:11 and change. He goes right to the gas from the gate. Frankly we will see a Dr. Fager “come and catch me”! I will go on record with this statement 21:3 – 43:4 – 1:08.3 and hit the wire by daylight! I have been laughed at before the derby and after regarding this MONSTER and that is handicapping and the game we love horse racing. EL KABEIR and I will avenge the ridicule on Saturday at Belmont Park!!!!!!!!!! Friday October 30th BREEDERS CUP WAGERS $30 win $20 place 1st race – BUMP START 10-1 2nd race – MAKOO 20-1 3rd race – EARLY ENTRY 15-1 4th race – TWEET KITTEN 12-1 5th race – RACE DAY 10-1 6th race – CAMELOT KITTEN 12-1 7th race – LEA 8-1 & WAR STORY 50-1 8th race – SAPPHIRE KITTEN 10-1 9th race – SHEER DRAMA 9-2 & WARREN’S VENEDA 50-1 $0.50 trifecta box ALL 10 races 1/2/5/7 6/3/2 5/6/9 1/2/4 7/3/2 $0.50 pick – 3 6th race – 5/6/7/9/12/14 – 3/5/11 – 2/3/7/10/13 7th race – 3/5/11 – 2/3/7/10/13 – 7/11/13/14 8th race – 2/3/7/10/13 – 7/11/13/14 – 6/8/13 $2 daily double 6th race – 5/6/7/9/12/14 over 3/5/11 7th race – 3/5/11 over 2/3/7/10/13 $1.00 exacta box 4th race – 1/4/5/11/12 6th race – 5/6/7/9/12/14 7th race – 3/5/11 8th race – 2/3/7/10/13 9th race – 7/11/13/14 $0.50 pick-4 6th race – 7/9/12/14 – 3/5/11 – 2/3/7/10/13 – 7/11/13/14 7th race – 3/5/11 – 2/3/7/10-13 – 7/11/13/14 – 6/8/13 All these wagers total $1,377.00 “MAY THE HORSE BE WITH YOU” BONUS PLAY WOODBINE RACE COURSE 8th race TRIGGER FINGER 12-1 smile emoticon
Jonathan Epstein More than 1 year ago
How about holding it in Florida or Louisiana occasionally? A lot more to do there when the racing is over.
Carson Horton More than 1 year ago
At least they aren't holding it in SoCal again!
saratogajunkie More than 1 year ago
Hope those Zeppelin like buildings can take the winds coming in tonight! BIG STORMS COMING #Hindenberg
Heather Hall More than 1 year ago
If anyone is in search of general admission tickets for the Breeder's Cup Fri and Sat, I won't be able to make it, looks like we are spending both days at Indiana Downs. Email me at hallmisc@insightbb.com for more details. I have access to 7 tickets for Friday, 4 for Saturday.
r More than 1 year ago
This BC looms as a complete debacle at such a small facility. I regularly attend the BC, but there was NO WAY I was going to be subjected to the crowded spaces of KEE in late October of all times. Good luck with this one...I'll see you in SA next year. Thanks but no thanks.
Richard Gerbig More than 1 year ago
Actually it will be held for the first time at Del Mar, a place where people can sit in the infield. On opening day 40,000 plus fans are normally there. At least there should be more fans able to attend.
Christopher McKay More than 1 year ago
It will be the biggest disaster in BC history!......There is only one main road (4 lanes) to get to the track and a few country roads. Being a college town, possibly crashing the gates. UK plays football that night, Horse park is conducting a major event and other activities with UK........HONOR GRADE will upset the Apple cart because there will be a very fast pace in the Classic.....
boutiqueaffair More than 1 year ago
You mean Honor Code?
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
what fast pace?? there isin"t any,ap on the lead in a 48 plus opening half, beholder goes first after ap,beholder folds and here come the rest,frosted may be able to get by this time,forget tonalist and honor (grade) code. hopefully all have a safe trip,the dirt track has been a disaster too many breakdowns this meet. cant wait
Ramon Arca More than 1 year ago
i wish u all good luck next fri and sat.i really do peace;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;
Steve Reed More than 1 year ago
This event will be a spectacle to say the least. Can't wait to see Beholder hook up with the boys again. This track does not favor Honor Codes style but he will give a good account of himself.
J Yarde More than 1 year ago
J Yarde More than 1 year ago
DRF, what happened to post from earlier this morning?
Frank More than 1 year ago
At least we got it out of CA -- I cant stand Santa Anita, Del Mar or Hollywood park -- all speed favoring, CA form favoring tracks. Funny -- its also usually the only time CA (especially 2yr olds) win BC races. I loved how the BC pre-2008 always switched tracks -- its what made the BC more competitive and better to bet on. Any BC outside of CA is a great one -- which this one will be -- I plan on betting a lot more on this one since its run on a fair track....
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
It appears you have no problem with the bad weather that too often impacts horseracing on the East Coast tracks, like Keeneland. The main reason they should not have the BC races at East Coast tracks in the Fall is the potential of rain, slop, etc. That happened at Monmouth, which may have contributed to a few breakdowns of horses. The ones running the tracks can't control the weather. Hollywood Park Race Track was not speed-favoring. It was a synthetic track and it was one of the greatest and safest tracks in the country. Keeneland took the conformist/luddite approach. And tore out its highly praised synthetic track and put in a "dirt" track. And there have been too many breakdowns recently. They converted to dirt in order to host the Breeder's Cup races, a feather in their caps. Hopefully the weather and the dirt main track are not factors in the safety of the horses and jockeys and outcome of the races. The handlers of Beholder have stated they would not run Beholder if it is an off track. An old school rule use to be: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Brian More than 1 year ago
I went to every BC from 2000-2010 - which included two stops in Kentucky, two at Belmont, one in New Jersey and one in Illinois - and the only one where the experience was adverse was Monmouth. And the two at Belmont were by far the most memorable, best experiences. The worst experiences were in California. Unbearable traffic, sub-standard racing and, one year, the air burned to breathe because of wildfires in the mountains behind Santa Anita.
Mike More than 1 year ago
I live in Virginia and I've been to the last three Breeders' Cups at Santa Anita. The entire experience was great. The track was good, the races great (lots of long odds upsets last year), the weather was very nice all three years (bad weather for LA last year better than Kee is likely to be this year). Getting to LA is not difficult and the prices for flights and hotels are reasonable because LA is so big that the event is barely noticed locally and there is no price gouging. I can't wait to go back to LA and then Del Mar the next year. The writer above apparently has never been to Del Mar, the most beautiful location in NA for a horse track, only a half mile from the beach, which you can see from the grandstand.
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Ive been to every Breeders Cup (except Woodbine)since 1997.The mess at Monmouth was the worst by far.I love traveling out to California .The weather(except the smoke from a forest fire a couple a years ago) by far the best.That along with the whole infrastructure is by far best equipped for this great event.The neighborhood around Santa Anita is the safest.This from a proud New York resident and regular Belmont attendee.
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
Your comments aren't on point. You talk more of inconveniences for the spectator/bettor; I was referring to the issue of safe and quality race tracks. Agree that at Santa Anita, for example, better customer service is needed. If you think there were crowded conditions, let's see what happens at Keeneland, which is a smaller venue. In terms of quality of racing and good customer service, Hollywood Park Race Track offered the better experience. Many of the strongest runners in the past few years all raced at Hollywood Park (and Santa Anita), including Zenyatta, California Chrome, Shared Belief, and American Pharoah. The higher quality horses had at least one thing in common, they raced at Hollywood Park Race Track on a synthetic surface. The most memorable recent BC on the East Coast was the disaster at Monmouth and the Classic at Churchill Downs, which saw Zenyatta beat while closing at the wire..