Breeders’ Cup to be back under the Spires in ’18

IMG_7845It might not have been a foregone conclusion, but Churchill Downs was the winter book favorite to be the Breeders’ Cup host in 2018, and today the “OFFICIAL” light was lit on the toteboard with the Central Avenue oval at the top. It’s the first time since 2011 the legendary track will host.

Breeders’ Cup officials have long said that Churchill Downs is one of its most profitable — if not the most profitable — site for the year-end thoroughbred racing championships. That status could be reinforced with the 2018 Breeders’ Cup returning to Churchill for a what will be a record-tying ninth appearance (Santa Anita Park will host its ninth this year) benefitting from a number of premium improvements.

Not the least of those is the finish-line view Mansion, currently reserved (almost exclusively) for Derby and Oaks. It’s a safe bet Breeders’ Cup will be in the Mansion (formerly the sixth-floor press box). Also, there’s the winner’s circle suites that debuted before last year’s Oaks and Derby and offer owners (or others, if the Breeders’ Cup chooses) premium seating right by the winner’s circle.

The decision is a testament to the status of the current Breeders’ Cup-Churchill Downs Inc. relationship, which has been — putting it, possibly, conservatively — tense at times. Churchill’s TwinSpires.com is now a major Breeders’ Cup sponsor.

A couple other takeaways:

Permanent site dead? — The talk of several years ago that the Breeders’ Cup would name a permanent or long-term host site appears to be, at least in practice, dead. Santa Anita and its beautiful sunsets and East Coast primetime possibilities for the Classic may make The Great Race Place the most frequent host going forward, but it’s hard to see it being permanent.

The town that lets them down — Five of the first 22 Breeders’ Cups took place in New York, with four at Belmont Park and the second annual at Aqueduct Racetrack. With the Churchill 2018 decision, it’ll be 13 years and counting for the last appearance of the Breeders’ Cup in the Big Apple. What was once a staple of the regular rotation is now a distant memory. With the New York Racing Association still under state control, it’s difficult to see a return until that’s no longer an issue. The lack of modern premium seating and entertainment areas probably hurts Belmont as well, but the state control seems to be the biggest deal breaker.

Kentucky wagering tax break — The Kentucky General Assembly reinstated a pari-mutuel wagering tax break for Keeneland Race Course to host the 2015 Breeders’ Cup. Expect an effort to reinstate that again for Churchill in 2018.

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