Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 2
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Host sites heat up sport’s East-West rivalry

When the Breeders’ Cup announced in August that it would hold next year’s event at Santa Anita Park in the Los Angeles area, for the third time in five years, the decision caused an uproar among the New York horse racing community and fueled an old East Coast-West Coast rivalry in horse racing.

Going back to the days of California-based Seabiscuit versus New York-based War Admiral in the late 1930s, that rivalry has continued to manifest itself. In the 1970s, it pitted fans of the East’s Alydar against fans of the West’s Affirmed. It raged again two years ago when the horse racing industry named New York filly Rachel Alexandra “Horse of the Year” over then undefeated Zenyatta, who was based at Hollywood Park in the Los Angeles area.

East Coast horse racing executives have criticized the decision to return the Breeders’ Cup to Santa Anita Park in 2012.
Since the Breeders’ Cup was created in 1984, the tracks in the centers of racing — New York, California and Kentucky — have vied to host the prestigious event that is a showcase for not only the best horses in the U.S., but an event that has attracted some of the best horses in the world.

Three years ago, the issue became hot when it became known that Breeders’ Cup officials were considering Santa Anita as the permanent home for the event, which is always held the last week of October or the first week of November.

The stories were that “There was a strong desire on the part of the Breeders’ Cup to do a long-term deal at Santa Anita and, if that was true, I think it would have been unfair for the racing industry,” said Charles Hayward, CEO of the New York Racing Association. “Inherently, the West Coast trainers would have an advantage. It is unfair to the owners, the trainers, the jockeys and the fans.”

Some of those who favor a permanent home for the Breeders’ Cup have said that having it at one iconic location, like Santa Anita, could help the event to grow, like other sports events held in the same place, such as golf’s Masters, held at Augusta.

But New York-based racehorse owner Mike Repole said he believes it is only fair that the Breeders’ Cup rotate from one racing center to another.

“I don’t think 25 years ago when the Breeders’ Cup got started that they said, ‘We want this to be like the Masters. And it will be at Augusta or be like Wimbledon and be in London or be in England,’” Repole said.

Repole called the decision to hold the 2012 event in Santa Anita a “travesty,” and suggested that NYRA host its own event to compete with the Breeders’ Cup.

D.G. Van Clief, the executive director for the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984, said the idea at the beginning was to have the event rotate from one center of horse racing to another to grow racing at those venues and give fans in those areas a chance to see the best horses in the world.

But, Van Clief said, three of the first four Breeders’ Cups were run at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita in the Los Angeles area, and the other one was held at New York’s Aqueduct. The reason for Southern California getting so many Breeders’ Cups when the event was in its infancy, according to Van Clief: “We needed the closest thing to a guarantee of good weather.”

Frank Stronach, owner of The Stronach Group, which owns not only Santa Anita, but Gulfstream Park in the Miami

area, noted in an email to SportsBusiness Journal that the Southern California weather is an advantage of holding the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.

“I believe the Breeders’ Cup is best when it is run in a warm weather climate,” Stronach wrote. “I know from many personal conversations that top owners and trainers around the world do not want to race their best horses in severe weather with very cold temperatures or too much rain.”

Stronach said his group is excited about hosting the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita for the sixth time next year. “We would love to have the BC at Santa Anita on a regular basis after that,” he wrote. “Whether that is as a permanent home or in rotation with other tracks is up to the BC board.”

The East Coast side of the debate may have something to cheer about soon. Breeders’ Cup officials were, as of press

Breeders’ Cup officials were in talks to hold the 2013 event at New York’s Belmont Park.
time, in talks to hold the 2013 event at NYRA’s Belmont Park. Although there are no sure things in horse racing, a number of people in the industry were quietly betting that the event will end up in New York.

“I am going to tell you what I have told other people,” said Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup president and CEO. “We are in the process of negotiating with New York for 2013 and we are hopeful that is where it will end up.”

Hayward said that Belmont, which has not played host to the Breeders’ Cup since 2005, was disappointed when it bid for the 2012 Breeders’ Cup and it was awarded to Santa Anita. “We have had conversations with the Breeders’ Cup about 2013,” Hayward said. “We had a meeting last month at Belmont and we are hoping to move the dialogue along.”