04/25/2016 10:04AM

Churchill Downs to host 2018 Breeders' Cup

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Barbara D. Livingston
Churchill Downs last hosted the Breeders' Cup in 2011.

Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., has been selected to host the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, officials for both companies announced Monday, a decision that will return the two-day event to the site that has generated the Breeders’ Cup’s highest attendance and handle figures.

Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, has hosted the Breeders’ Cup eight times in the past, as many times as Santa Anita Park in Southern California. The 2018 event has been scheduled for Nov. 2-3. The last time Churchill hosted the Breeders’ Cup was in 2011, the second of back-to-back events there.

The two cards at Churchill Downs featuring the 2010 Breeders’ Cup races drew $173.9 million in bets and a total of 114,353 spectators, records for a two-day Breeders’ Cup. Record attendance of 80,452 for a one-day Breeders’ Cup was set in 1998, when the event was at Churchill, and record one-day handle for the event of $140.3 million was set in 2006 at Churchill.

Though it has been five years since Churchill hosted the event, the Breeders’ Cup was held in Kentucky last year at Keeneland in Lexington. Attendance had to be capped because of the small size of the Keeneland grandstand and strong demand for tickets, and the Breeders’ Cup spent an unprecedented amount of money on temporary seating areas, but officials for the organization viewed the event as an unqualified success.

Churchill has been able to set ontrack records for the event due to the wide range of accommodations at its Louisville property, ranging from grandstand general admission to high-end luxury suites, and due to its proximity to central Kentucky, the economic and cultural cradle of U.S. horse racing. Handle on recent Breeders’ Cup events at the track has also been aided by the addition of lights, which allows the Breeders’ Cup to start its cards at a reasonable hour for West Coast bettors and push its cards into prime time on the East Coast.

Most racing fans consider the narrow victory by Blame over the then-unbeaten Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill to be one of the most dramatic moments in Breeders’ Cup history. The race took place under the lights.  

At a press conference on Monday, Breeders’ Cup officials pointed out that Churchill Downs has spent tens of millions of dollars on its grandstand facilities in the past five years, including the completion of a luxury suite called “The Mansion” on the fifth floor of the structure.

“Churchill Downs’s ongoing, significant investment in their facility to enhance the experience for participants and fans aligns perfectly with our desire to conduct one of the best racing events in the world,” said Craig Fravel, the chief executive of the Breeders’ Cup.

This year’s Breeders’ Cup is scheduled for Santa Anita, and the 2017 event is scheduled for Del Mar outside of San Diego. It has been since 2007, when Monmouth Park in New Jersey hosted the first two-day event, since the Breeders’ Cup has been held outside of California or Kentucky.

The selection of Churchill means that New York will have to wait until at least 2019 to host the event again. The last time the Breeders’ Cup was held in New York was at Belmont Park in 2005. Since then, Breeders’ Cup officials have been wary of tabbing the track for the event because of political and financial uncertainty surrounding the track’s operator, the New York Racing Association.