01/24/2018 1:26PM

Breeders' Cup board set to discuss major event changes


LEXINGTON, Ky. – The board of the Breeders’ Cup is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss a number of proposals that could have significant impacts on its two-day event, including several radical changes that could upend the racing calendar, according to officials involved with the organization.

Craig Fravel, president and chief executive of Breeders’ Cup, said late last week that he would not comment specifically on any proposals that are expected to come before the board, and he rejected suggestions that any of the ideas are on a fast track to implementation.

“Any kind of ideas or thoughts that we are analyzing or discussing we don’t discuss in public until we have acted on them,” Fravel said. “We’re looking at millions of things all the time.”

According to officials, items up for discussion include potential host sites for the 2019 event and beyond; the possibility of adding a 14th race to the two-day event, restricted to 3-year-olds; the rescheduling of the full two-day event to mid-December; and the rescheduling of the Classic to a date one month later than the two-day event, a radical proposal that is being supported by board member Bobby Flay, the celebrity chef who is a horse owner and breeder.

Through an intermediary, Flay declined to comment on his proposal Wednesday, but three officials confirmed that Flay is leading the effort to promote the idea, despite misgivings from some Breeders’ Cup officials.

The proposals are being offered for discussion at a time when some members of the Breeders’ Cup board are agitating for major changes out of the belief that the event should be posting far higher growth rates in handle and television ratings.

“There are a lot of proposals on the table for how to do that,” said Craig Bernick, a board member, who declined to comment specifically on any of the proposals.

Last year, handle on the 13 races of the event was $135.5 million, up 5.7 percent compared with handle on the races last year but flat compared with the 2013 handle. Ratings for the television broadcast, which is produced by Breeders’ Cup, are usually somewhere between 1 and 2, whereas the Kentucky Derby generates a rating and share among the highest of sporting broadcasts in the United States.

Aside from the Flay proposal, the Breeders’ Cup will be considering an idea to move the event to mid-December in order to escape competition from college football, a television ratings powerhouse that is thought by some board members to impact ratings for the Saturday card of the two-day event. If the event were to be moved to December, that would create a far-reaching ripple effect on the schedules of most major racetracks, which hold their major Breeders’ Cup preps in late September or early October.

The idea for a new race, to be called the Breeders’ Cup Derby, is likely to get strong consideration from the board independent of any discussion over moving the date of the event or the Classic, according to officials. Breeders’ Cup has not added a race to its schedule since 2011, but the race that was added, the Juvenile Sprint, was dropped after only two runnings.

The Flay proposal is based on the belief among some board members that public interest in 3-year-old horses during the Triple Crown races would carry through to the Breeders’ Cup Derby and make for a popular showdown between those horses and older horses if the Breeders’ Cup Classic were held a month later in December. Critics of that proposal, who did not want to be identified because of Flay’s popularity, contend that it misreads the public’s attention span beyond the Triple Crown.

Potential host sites that are up for discussion include some of the common host sites, such as Santa Anita and Churchill, along with less experienced hosts such as Keeneland and Del Mar and newcomer Laurel Park. This year’s event will be held at Churchill.