Commentary

Hey, Breeders' Cup: Hit the road

Updated: October 31, 2011, 2:23 AM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

It's cold and gray here today in Toronto, but everything else about this Canadian city makes you remember that it's a perfect fit for the Breeders' Cup. You have a big city, a nice, large facility in Woodbine, enthusiastic racing fans, a more-than-capable management team and a proven record of success when it comes to hosting racing's year-end championship.

You can have it both ways, racing where it makes the most sense economically while also staying true to the goals of the founders.

But it hasn't been here in 15 years and it's a pretty safe bet that it's never coming back. Nor is it likely to come to Monmouth, Lone Star or Arlington, three other former hosts. It's become pretty clear what the Breeders' Cup wants and doesn't want when it picks host sites and Churchill Downs, Santa Anita and, maybe, Belmont, are the only tracks that fit their criteria.

Since Monmouth held the Breeders' Cup in 2007, it has been run only at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs and is scheduled to return to Santa Anita next year. Belmont is the favorite to get it in 2013. It appears that the future of the Breeders' Cup includes only those three racetracks, and Belmont is no cinch to get into the rotation.

Breeders' Cup officials have to choose their words carefully whenever they keep picking Santa Anita and Churchill so as not to offend any other racing jurisdictions, but it's still crystal clear what is going on here. They believe they make more money hosting the event at Santa Anita and Churchill as opposed to any place else.

There's nothing wrong with that. In earlier times, the Breeders' Cup was swimming in money, the bulk of it coming from nomination fees for foals and stallions. Over the last several years the number of foals born each year has declined significantly and stud fees aren't what they used to be.

That's forced the Breeders' Cup to rely more on other sources of revenue, like handle and admission and seat charges. If running a Breeders' Cup at Churchill means making a lot more money than a Breeders' Cup at Arlington that's a good reason to pick Louisville over Arlington Heights.

(Then again, I don't get it. Most of the betting is done off track and the crowds have been big most every time the Breeders' Cup has deviated from the Kentucky-Southern California-New York rotation.)

The problem is the Breeders' Cup was always meant to be something more than a cut-and-dried business that thinks only of the bottom line. It was supposed to belong to all of racing; it was supposed to be a traveling showcase of the best the sport offers that would ignite interest in the game all over North America.

That's why it went to places like Woodbine. And when it did there was a buzz in the air that doesn't exist at Churchill, Santa Anita and Belmont. Whether it's the local communities, the local media or area fans, a Breeders' Cup that ventures off the beaten path creates the kind of excitement and enthusiasm you don't find with the same old, same old.

Churchill Downs is a magnificent place to hold the Breeders' Cup. It is an iconic, large facility and Louisville is one the few places on the map where racing is every bit as popular as the mainstream sports. But the Kentucky Derby will always be No. 1 at Churchill and that deflects from the specialness of the Breeders' Cup.

Belmont Park is a stately, historic track and the NYRA team is good at holding big events. But New York is just too big for the Breeders' Cup. With the Mets, Yankees, Giants, Jets and everything else that goes on in the most vibrant city in America, the Breeders' Cup gets lost.

Woodbine in Toronto, Canada
Horsephotos.comWill the Woodbine grandstand ever see the Breeders' Cup again?
With great weather and another wonderful facility, Santa Anita might just be the best place on earth to hold the Breeders' Cup. But when it comes to how much the area can focus on the Breeders' Cup, LA is a lot like New York. Besides, you can't have it at Santa Anita every year.

Woodbine is getting ready to host Saturday's Breeders Crown, harness racing's version of the Breeders Cup. Sometimes by design, sometimes out of necessity, the Breeders Crown goes all over the place. It's been at obvious sites like Wodbine and the Meadowlands and numerous not so obvious ones like Colonial Downs, Batavia and Pompano Park.

That might not be the best formula for the Breeders' Cup, but neither is the current trend that has made it a two-track event.

You can have it both ways, racing where it makes the most sense economically while also staying true to the goals of the founders. Starting in 2013, when the Breeders' Cup absolutely should be at Belmont, begin a rotation that takes it from New York to Kentucky to California to a track that is not in New York, Kentucky or California. Every four years, go to Lone Star, Woodbine, Arlington, Monmouth or even some place else new and different.

They'll bet a ton of money a week from Saturday at Churchill and there will be a lot of people in the seats. It's just that there should be more to the Breeders' Cup than that.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com