The Breeders’ Cup, the largest event in horse racing, has chosen Santa Anita to host its 40th anniversary event. 3-4, 2023. This will be the 11th time that the Arcadia track hosts guests.
Thursday’s announcement was not unexpected as the event has alternated between California and Kentucky for the past few years. Del Mar last hosted it in 2021 and Santa Anita hosted it in 2019. This year the Breeders’ Cup is taking place at Keenland in Lexington, Kentucky.
The two race days include 14 races, five on Friday and nine on Saturday, totaling over $31 million. The bulk of the wallet money comes from nomination fees. Typically, breeders nominate their stallions every breeding season for about the amount of their mating fee. The resulting foal is then nominated for $400 in the first year, which is good for the rest of their career.
Drew Fleming, President and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, says there are currently no plans to change any races for next year.
“We always strive for the best,” Fleming said. “But right now we don’t have any current plans to change races.”
Since it’s been almost 16 months since the event, there’s still plenty of time to make adjustments.
Santa Anita fans will be disappointed to know that its 6½-foot turf run is likely not to be used.
“Traditionally outside of Santa Anita, turf sprints are 5 or 5½ furlongs,” Fleming said. “But Santa Anita has a new grass chute that can handle those distances. It’s still early and we’re still looking at both.”
The problem with using a 6½ furlong course is that there is not much difference between it and a mile (8 furlong) turf race.
Santa Anita is also not going to make big changes.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any major changes to the surfacing,” said Craig Fravel, chief executive of 1st Racing, formerly part of the Stronach Group and owner of Santa Anita. “We will refill the lawn, which we usually do every two years. So there shouldn’t be any big difference.”
Fravel is familiar with the Breeders’ Cup because he was its chief executive before joining the Stronach Group. Fleming replaced him.
“If anything, I appreciate the Breeders Cup even more,” Fravel said. “Life is always greener elsewhere, but at the Breeders’ Cup I missed the daily races of being around the horses all the time. I’m on the race track now and I understand what a special event the Breeders’ Cup is and what a great job their team is doing.”
Despite being familiar, Fravel won’t get too involved.
“I will play a short role,” Fravel said. “I’m only important when things go wrong.”
Fravel said COO Aidan Butler, general manager Nate Newby and senior vice president Amy Zimmerman “will run like clockwork.”
Fleming admitted there was discussion about what happened at the Del Mar Breeders’ Cup, when a horse was accidentally scratched at the Juvenile Turf that Friday and then raced again for purse money only. This infuriated the players because they couldn’t bet on him and then he won the race.
Although it was a human error, the California Horse Racing Board blushed as they tried to explain how it happened.
“This has been an unfortunate situation that has affected our fans and players on horses, which are the backbone of our industry,” Fleming said. “Roszdravnadzor conducted its own independent audit. We will continue to work with CHRB to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We believe in CHRB and its ability to stay ahead of the curve on these things.”
The last time the Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita in 2019, the question was whether the races would be held after the spike in fatalities at its meeting from December to June. The Breeders’ Cup held a special meeting and agreed to hold the event after many safety reforms were made at the track.
All was going well until the final race on the final day when the Mongolian Groom broke down on the main event leg of the Classic and was later euthanized. Subsequent investigation suggested that sightings of the horse before the races may have prevented it from running, but this did not happen. The track was flawless, but still scarred.
“Personally, it doesn’t bother me that a very sad event will be brought up and we can look at it in the rearview mirror,” said Fravel, who was still working at the Breeders’ Cup that day. “Now we have some of the best safety records in any race. We implement many processes. Our veterinary teams are full time. We’re doing everything we can.”
In 2019, Santa Anita had 30 racing and practice deaths at her signature winter-spring meetup. There were eight this year.