Updated on 06/17/2011 3:48PM

Breeders' Cup names Fravel as chief executive

Craig Fravel has been named president and CEO of Breeders' Cup Ltd.

Craig Fravel, a longtime track executive with Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in La Jolla, Calif., has been named the president and chief executive officer of Breeders' Cup, the organization announced on Friday.

Fravel, 54, has been employed by Del Mar for his entire career in racing, starting at the track as its general counsel in 1990. He was elevated to track president and general manager last year.

Fravel emerged as the leading candidate for the position after a search committee conducted interviews with six final applicants last month. The committee was assisted by Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm that conducted the Breeders' Cup's previous search for a chief executive in 2006.

In a release, Breeders' Cup cited Fravel's work at Del Mar, a seaside track that conducts a popular seven-week meet in the summer. Del Mar has been one of the few tracks on the national landscape to post increases in attendance and handle over the last decade, and its opening-day card has become a significant draw in the San Diego area.

"We are proud to have selected one of the most talented, innovative, and respected individuals in our business to take the reins as the new Breeders' Cup president and chief executive officer," said Tom Ludt, the chairman of the organization and its search committee. "Craig's value as a leader and expertise in so many areas will be a terrific asset to our company in the expanded global universe of the Breeders' Cup."

Fravel is a member of the Jockey Club, a past chairman of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and a board member of Equibase, the racing data company owned by the Jockey Club in partnership with the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, a racetrack trade group. Before being hired at Del Mar, Fravel was a partner at the San Diego law firm of Luce, Forward, Hamilton, and Scripps. He represented Del Mar while at the firm.
The chief executive position became open following the April resignation of Greg Avioli, the Breeders' Cup's chief executive for the previous five years. Avioli resigned to take the top position at a company that is being formed by prominent owner-breeder Frank Stronach to operate the racing and gambling assets of MI Developments.
Those assets include Santa Anita Park, a five-time host of the Breeders' Cup's year-end event.

Fravel will take the position at a time that the Breeders' Cup is evaluating host sites for its 2012 and 2013 events. Last week, the organization heard presentations from the New York Racing Association, which operates Belmont Park, and from Avioli, representing Santa Anita Park.

Del Mar is currently in talks with the Oak Tree Racing Association to hold Oak Tree's fall meet at the track in 2012, and both have indicated that they would like to host a Breeders' Cup event. Until 2010, Oak Tree had held a fall meet at Santa Anita Park for 41 years - and was host of the five Santa Anita Breeders' Cup - but the not-for-profit association moved its meet to Hollywood Park last year following a series of failed attempts to hold the meet at Santa Anita. Earlier this year, the California Horse Racing Board awarded the fall dates to Santa Anita, and future Oak Tree meets are in limbo.

Despite Fravel and Avioli's close connections to both potential host tracks and the Breeders' Cup, the organization does not plan to limit the involvement of either one in either making bids for the host site or deciding on future host sites, said Jim Gluckson, a spokesperson for Breeders' Cup, citing "established standards and criteria" that the Breeders' Cup site election committee uses to evaluate host sites.
"The Breeders' Cup is fully confident that the process will continue as it has in past host-site selections," Gluckson said.

In a release on Friday, Del Mar's chief executive, Joe Harper, said that Fravel's position would not be filled at the track, and that his duties would be divided among the existing management team.