In a move expected for weeks, the Breeders’ Cup is returning to Southern California twice in the next three years. Santa Anita will host the 2019 series of championship races and Del Mar will get a return visit by hosting the 2021 Breeders’ Cup. It will be at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., in 2020.
The announcement will come Friday in a series of orchestrated news announcements at each of the three tracks. Santa Anita will make its announcement in the morning, Keeneland in mid-afternoon in Kentucky and Del Mar in mid-afternoon at the seaside track. Craig Fravel, president and chief executive of the Breeders’ Cup, will be at Santa Anita and Del Mar.
Officials connected with the Breeders’ Cup and the host tracks have not wanted to talk before any public announcement even though it has been an open secret in the industry.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on the first weekend in November.
The Breeders’ Cup has fallen into a pattern of alternating the event between California and Kentucky, unlike the earlier days when the event went to many sites across the country. The last time it wasn’t in either of those states was 2007, when Monmouth in New Jersey hosted the event.
This will be the 10th time that Santa Anita has held the event, a record. Del Mar hosted in 2017 and seemed to pull off the event with few hitches. The track immediately put forth the word that it would be willing to host again if the Breeders’ Cup wanted to come back.
Del Mar has a limited seating capacity and a nightmarish traffic and parking situation on big race days. At its only Breeders’ Cup, the attendance was capped at around 37,500 and new traffic and parking solutions were tried. Everything appeared to work well.
Word of Del Mar being close to hosting another Breeders’ Cup came just before the current Del Mar meet when Joe Harper, president and chief executive of the track, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that it was in serious negotiations for the event to return. Santa Anita has been talking to the Breeders’ Cup for most of the year and at one point thought it would be able to make an announcement as early as May. But negotiations with all the tracks dragged and contracts were not signed until recently.
The California-Kentucky rotation may change in the future as Laurel Park, a Stronach Group track between Baltimore and Washington, wants to host the event. However, it’s likely that everyone would rather wait until after the track has hosted another big event, such as the Preakness, if it moves from Pimlico to Laurel in the very near future.
The Stronach Group is only committed to running the Preakness at aging Pimlico for one more year. The track, which runs only two weeks a year, needs massive improvement and the Stronach Group has indicated it won’t put more money into the track and that improvements would have to come from public monies.
Santa Anita and Del Mar seem to be in a constant state of updating to try and better identify with the crowd it is seeking to keep and the crowd who is not exposed to the sport. In Santa Anita’s case, the challenge is to keep presenting something new. And for Del Mar, to show that the country’s biggest boutique track is right there among the biggest.