06/17/2014 11:48AM

Report: Keeneland to host 2015 Breeders' Cup

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Breeders’ Cup will announce later this month that the two-day event will be held for the first time at Keeneland Race Course in 2015, according to a report in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Officials for Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup on Tuesday would not comment on the report, which also said the event will return to Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., in 2016 and then be moved in 2017 to another first-time venue, Del Mar racetrack in Del Mar, Calif. The report cited two unidentified sources “with knowledge of the plans.”

The decisions to hold the event at Keeneland and Del Mar would represent a marked departure by the Breeders’ Cup board in determining host sites. Although the tracks are among the most popular, aesthetically pleasing, and vibrant on the U.S. map, both also have small grandstands compared to the behemoths that have hosted the event over the past seven years, when the Breeders’ Cup has been held exclusively at either Santa Anita or Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Keeneland officials said earlier this year that they would bid on hosting the Breeders’ Cup as early as 2015, with plans to erect temporary seating for the event, including luxury tents and villas. The track’s existing facilities, which have permanent seating for approximately 9,000, can be uncomfortably crowded on any big Saturday of racing, when attendance typically reaches 30,000 and more. Record attendance at the track is 40,617, set at the spring meet in 2012.

Attendance for the Saturday Breeders’ Cup card has regularly exceeded 50,000 when held at Santa Anita and 70,000 when held at Churchill Downs.

The Breeders’ Cup board met June 11 to discuss the site plans. Its chief executive, Craig Fravel, is the former executive vice president of Del Mar, and its chairman, Will Farish Jr., is a Keeneland board member. Central Kentucky breeders have been aggressively promoting Keeneland’s bid, despite clear signals from some Breeders’ Cup board members that they prefer to host the event in Southern California because of its predictable fall weather and the gorgeous backdrop at Santa Anita of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Central Kentucky breeders believe that holding the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in early November will give a boost to the association’s November breeding stock sale, the largest of its kind in North America. The sale typically begins the Monday after the Breeders’ Cup.

Keeneland decided this year to rip out its artificial surface in favor of a return to a dirt track, with installation complete by the fall meet this year. The artificial surface was first installed at the track in 2006, and its fatality rate dropped sharply. Breeders’ Cup board members decided several years ago that they favored siting the event at tracks with dirt surfaces on the main track.

Del Mar plans to replace its artificial surface with a dirt track after the close of its 2014 meet. The track also is currently widening its turf course to accommodate 14 runners, considered a necessity for holding the Breeders’ Cup.

In previous years when the Breeders’ Cup was held in Kentucky, the state legislature granted a tax break to Churchill Downs worth approximately $1 million. Damon Thayer, the Kentucky Senate majority floor leader, said Tuesday that the legislature likely would not discuss a proposal to resurrect the expired tax break until the legislature meets for the 2015 session.

“Once a contract is signed between Breeders’ Cup and Keeneland, that would be something that we could start to consider,” Thayer said. “That tax break has been authorized and reauthorized several times, but it’s going to take some thought and consideration since it has expired.”

Thayer added that he believed “Keeneland has the ability to be an excellent host” for the event.

“I have a lot of faith in Keeneland and Central Kentucky, and this is a great day for the state,” he said.