By Barry Weisbord
In June, 2014, I questioned the wisdom of the Breeders’ Cup’s decision to award the 2015 World Championships to Keeneland. No knock on Keeneland, which does a wonderful job of putting on its racing and sales every year, but I wondered aloud if the track was too small and the town was too small to accommodate the people who would descend upon Lexington from all over the world. I worried, I said, that there wouldn’t be enough restaurants, hotels, seating and parking to handle everyone.
I have just completed a 15-day stint in town for the Breeders’ Cup and the sale and I have three words to say: I was wrong.
Oh, wait…three more: It was spectacular.
In fact, I couldn’t be more impressed with how Keeneland, the Breeders’ Cup and Lexington handled the event.
From the moment I got off the airplane, it was like stepping into a world wrapped in Breeders’ Cup purple. Signs at the airport, a banner over downtown counting down the minutes, host hotels dressed in signage and Breeders’ Cup logos worn by everyone, and an energy downtown that was unlike that in any host city I have seen.
Throughout the week, owners thoroughly enjoyed the Lane’s End breakfast marquee, and the structure built for the purpose was spot-on.
The weather Tuesday and Wednesday dampened some of the early activities downtown, but it was still impossible to go anywhere and not feel something important was happening in Lexington. The Breeders’ Cup’s week-long use of the Apiary (one of the most outstanding private event facilities I’ve ever been to) for the race participants was genius. It really helped the owners and breeders feel like they were participating in an event of the highest quality. The Taste of the World party for race participants was the best one ever, with WinStar Farm transforming a foaling barn into a magnificent space, with the best collection of chefs yet, topped off by a fantastic concert by Tim McGraw. It set the tone for the weekend that things were going to be done right.
Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup’s contribution to the infrastructure and the way the event was carried out was incredible. My seats–along with 8,000 other people–were in one of the temporary chalet structures, and they were fabulous. Our vantage point was great, as was the service, food and drink. We were able to move about within the area and visit with other people nearby. No matter where your tickets were, you were encouraged to enjoy the facility and to view the saddling area. Saturday after the races, I told friends that it was the best racetrack hospitality experience of my life.
Keeneland faced many challenges with entrance and egress issues, and in allowing people to move about the building, and they more than met those challenges.
I also believe it was the best collection of racehorses for not just a Breeders’ Cup, but for any race card in my lifetime anywhere in the world, even taking into account the loss of a couple of major horses due to sickness or scratches. It was, of course, topped off by the performance of a lifetime from American Pharoah.
Having experienced this first-hand, I have to say that Keeneland was more than up to the task, Lexington embraced the event like the horse capital of the world, and making them a permanent part of the rotation is the only logical conclusion.
So…when are we going back?