Considered as the sport’s Super Bowl, the Breeders’ Cup features 14 Grade 1 stakes races totaling $30 million in purses and awards.
Thoroughbred racing fans will notice some new features whether they are watching from home or visiting Churchill Downs to catch the action at one of America’s most treasured sports venues. The schedule changed this year with all juvenile (2-year-old) races taking place Friday. So, viewers, attending fans and horseplayers are going to experience some enhancements.
“This year fans will see all the two-year-old races run on Friday and promoted as ‘Future Stars Friday,’” said Bryan Pettigrew, the Breeders’ Cup chief marketing officer. “There will be new camera angles via the Jockey Cam, a Bat Cam which will run the entire length of the homestretch, and a new VR broadcast. We will be adding new bets to this year’s event, including the Jackpot Super High 5 and bringing back the Head2Head bets on a few races.”
Saturday evening’s $6 million Classic, airing live on NBC, is the Breeders’ Cup’s defining race with the top horses 3-years-old and older on dirt. Although the race will not include the 2018 Triple Crown Champion, Justify, due to his early retirement, there are a number of notable contenders.
The Morning Line favorite is Accelerate, who is coming into the race having won his last three starts — including the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park in September, the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar in August, and the Gold Cup in May which was also run at Santa Anita Park.
Other horses to keep an eye are Godolphin-owned Thunder Snow, winner of the 2018 Dubai World Cup, and Catholic Boy, who captured the Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga Race Track in August.
Upgrades at Churchill Downs
One of America’s oldest and historic racetracks, this year marks the ninth time Churchill Downs will host the Breeders’ Cup since it first began in 1984. The event was last held there in 2011, and since then the venue has undergone major renovations to enhance the fan experience.
Breeders’ Cup-goers from around the world are going to see firsthand how a historic venue can maintain its charm, but also keep up with the demands of today’s sports fan.
Being a true international event, the fan base attending the Breeders’ Cup is slightly different than Kentucky Derby weekend.
“The Breeders’ Cup differs from the Kentucky Derby because it is made up of races that put the best horses from different countries/continents on the same track to determine the year-end World Champion of their respective divisions,” said Pettigrew. “When you walk through Churchill Downs on November 2 and 3, you will hear so many different languages and witness many fashionable fans, which is sure to make you realize that you are at a very different race day and experience.”
Churchill Downs first opened in 1875 and is owned and operated by Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI), a publicly traded company. According to its website, CDI stresses the vision to “create extraordinary experiences for its customers whether they visit on site or online.”
“In the past seven years Churchill Downs Incorporated has invested over $150 million in the entire facility to further enhance the experience of people who attend events here,” said Darren Rogers, Churchill Downs’ senior director, communications and media services. “People [attending the Breeders’ Cup] who haven’t been here in a while will be amazed.”
Installed in 2014, the 4K ultra-high definition video board made by Panasonic Corporation of North America is still the largest of its kind in the world.
Rogers commented, “because the video board is so big and defined, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.” That same year, Churchill Downs also partnered with the infrastructure telecommunications company, Mobilitie, to upgrade its wireless network. This keeps thousands of fans in attendance connected allowing more shares of their memorable moments at the racetrack on social media.
“How many times have you been at a sporting event and you can’t get phone service? We take pride in being one of the top places to take a selfie in America. Having strong wireless coverage capabilities during big race days is important to us,” Rogers added.
Structurally, most of the viewing areas including the general admission zones as well as different luxury experiences around Churchill Downs have all been upgraded since the last time the Breeders’ Cup was held there.
Pettigrew said, “The Breeders’ Cup participants, who are fans in their own right, will see major improvements in the Turf Club and Stakes Room, while Racing Fans will notice renovations to the Second Floor Clubhouse and the Starting Gates Suites.”
Preserving the Past, Building for the Future
As noted by Rogers, Churchill Downs’ always strives to preserve the venue’s history, but continues making modifications centered on the fan experience.
This includes parking and transportation in and out of the 190-acre facility on big event days like Breeders’ Cup weekend. Last year the venue began construction on a $32 million renovation that included buying more land for additional parking spots and increasing the number of shuttles to make the flow of people smoother.
Churchill Downs remains ingrained in the fabric of our sports culture. By investing in the future and monitoring the changing habits of sports fans in general, the venue continues to stand the test of time and set the industry bar high. It has played host to the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” 144 times, and will continue to unveil new features in the coming years.
CDI announced in September the venue will be completing a new Rooftop Lounge atop the Starting Gate Suites ahead of the 145th Kentucky Derby in 2019, providing a unique hospitality experience for 500 more ticketed guests.
“Each amenity and upgrade we provide touches every guest’s experience. This includes patrons, horsemen, suite holders, and the ultra-elite. We work hard to include everybody in the planning,” said Rogers.
By taking this approach, Churchill Downs will not only serve as a successful host for this year’s Breeders’ Cup, but it will also continue to serve as a sports venue model at the top of its game.