10/16/2008 11:00PM

Cup just may be on drawing board


LEXINGTON, Ky. – With the 25th Breeders’ Cup being the talk of racetracks everywhere, racegoers and horsemen at Keeneland have been wondering whether the championships might really come here someday.

That possibility, once slim-to-none, was given a huge boost in early August when Keeneland officials announced that they had hired a world-class architectural firm, HOK Sport, to evaluate the facility and grounds for a possible renovation.

Keeneland’s president, Nick Nicholson, said this week that a team of representatives from HOK had been at the track throughout opening weekend, Oct. 3-5, of the current fall meet, with the aim of “getting to know what we’re all about,” said Nicholson.

“They had never been here when we were actually hosting racing, and my impression of what they came away with is, ‘They get it,’ ” said Nicholson. “Obviously we have a unique setting here, and the mandate I have from the board of directors and everyone else on this is that if we’re going to do something major, we still have to retain the essence and aura of Keeneland.”

The Breeders’ Cup, set for Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita, will return to Santa Anita in 2009, then go to Churchill Downs for a record seventh time in 2010. Even under the most perfect of circumstances, Keeneland probably could not be ready to host the Breeders’ Cup until at least 2012 or 2013.

Keeneland has never pursued the Breeders’ Cup because of its small size. Its grandstand and clubhouse seat only about 8,500, although crowds on some of its biggest days have exceeded 30,000, with the result being severe congestion in terms of wagering lines, concessions, traffic, and more. Widely acknowledged as one of the most aesthetically pleasing tracks in America, Keeneland has periodically undergone renovations since it was built in 1935, with the most recent coming in 1998.

Nicholson said the HOK team will examine all aspects of what a renovation might entail before making its recommendations.

“We’re talking interior, exterior, traffic control, crowd flow, anything you can think of,” he said. “After they come back with their recommendations, then we’ll talk about it among ourselves. I’m sure there will be a whole lot of back-and-forth before any definite decisions are made. All of that will take quite a bit of time, of course.”

Nicholson said he expects a report from HOK could be ready by the end of the year, but “there are no time frames set for anything. We have paid HOK a flat fee, which means it’s beneficial to them to come to us with their conclusions as soon as they can. But in the overall scheme, this isn’t something we can afford to rush into because of the magnitude of what we’re talking about.”

HOK Sport has offices in London, Australia, and four American cities. Among the latest endeavors for the firm is the massive renovation of Ascot Racecourse in England, as well as other major projects in a wide variety of sports, including football, baseball, and soccer.

McPeek as high as ever on Curlin

As good as Curlin has been on dirt, Ken McPeek said he believes the colt “will be even better” on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita.

McPeek, the veteran trainer who advised the colt’s original owners, the Midnight Cry Stable, to purchase Curlin at the 2005 Keeneland September yearling sale for $57,000, predicted Curlin will win the Breeders’ Cup Classic next weekend “in a cakewalk.”

“His stride is so efficient and smooth that he’ll win this race easier than he’s been winning these other ones on the dirt,” McPeek said. “He’ll absolutely love the synthetic track.”

McPeek, who at the time of the Curlin purchase had quit training to focus primarily on bloodstock work, has enjoyed quite a resurgence with his rejuvenated stable. Into Friday action, McPeek led the Keeneland fall meet in winners (5) and starters (32).

Mambo in Seattle possible for Fayette

Trainer Neil Howard hasn’t fully committed him, but if he runs, Mambo in Seattle figures as a heavy favorite in the final stakes of the meet, the Grade 3, $150,000 Fayette Stakes here next Saturday. Two starts back, Mambo in Seattle was beaten by Colonel John by a razor-thin margin in the Travers Stakes.

The Fayette will anchor a seven-race Saturday card that will be scheduled so as to avoid conflicts with the early simulcasts of the Breeders’ Cup from Santa Anita.

Gaver barn 2 for 2

Trainer John M. Gaver 3rd ran his record at the fall meet to 2 for 2 when Mutakaway rolled to victory in the second race here Wednesday. Gaver, a former page editor for Daily Racing Form, trains Mutakaway for another former DRF employee, Steve Fugitte.

Gaver is the son of John Gaver Jr., who as trainer for Greentree Stable upset the great Alydar in the 1979 Oaklawn Handicap with a horse named San Juan Hill.