Breeders’ Cup to race without fans; Keeneland hosts in 2022

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The Breeders’ Cup in November will be held without spectators, joining the Triple Crown races in having only essential personnel and participants on hand because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships are set for Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky.

The decision announced Saturday was made after consultation with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, Keeneland, local and state government and public health officials as well as independent medical experts. Before the pandemic, attendance had been capped at 45,000.

“It was a very difficult decision but we felt obviously it was the right thing to do,” Breeders’ Cup president and CEO Drew Fleming said by phone from Kentucky. “Safety always comes first with us.”

Breeders’ Cup officials also announced Keeneland will play host for a third time in 2022, a way for those who had planned to attend this year to be present soon after missing out.

“It felt right that they should be the first ones to have it,” Fleming said. “It was very much a unanimous decision from the board.”

Keeneland hosted for the first time in 2015. Del Mar in California will host next year.

Coronavirus protocols will be in place for owners, breeders, trainers and jockeys at Keeneland, including COVID-19 testing, temperature checks, face masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizing. Access will be restricted to specific areas. Fleming said the specific limits on owners and breeders will be announced later.

Despite the global pandemic, organizers still expect to attract top horses from Europe and elsewhere overseas for the 37th edition.

“We do anticipate we’ll have the best horses in the world,” said Fleming, who will preside over his first Breeders’ Cup as CEO in November.

Fans holding tickets will receive a full refund and will have first access to purchase the same or similar tickets for 2022. Single-day tickets cost $265 each on Friday and $385 each on Saturday. Two-day packages cost $650 each. This year’s event was to feature $10.5 million of improvements to the seating areas, including the addition of temporary chalets and lounges.

Fans watching from afar will notice new and enhanced production elements on the live NBC Sports broadcast. Breeders’ Cup also plans advanced technologies on its digital platforms, including a second screen to see as many horses as possible and a 360-degree virtual reality camera in the paddock.

“Our fans will have an excellent at-home experience,” Fleming said.

While some racetracks have been forced to reduce purses because of the impact of COVID-19, the Breeders’ Cup will offer $31 million in purses and awards, the same as last year.

However, the $4 million in purse increases announced in March have been postponed to 2021. The Classic purse will remain at $6 million; the Turf at $4 million; and the Dirt Mile at $1 million.

Next year, the Classic purse will rise to $7 million; the Turf will increase to $6 million; and the Dirt Mile will go up to $2 million.

Kentucky Derby winner Authentic could pick up extra cash if he wins the Classic.

Monmouth Park in New Jersey and BetMakers have teamed to offer a $1 million bonus to the connections of a horse that sweeps the Haskell, Derby and BC Classic. Trained by Bob Baffert, Authentic won the Haskell on July 18 and followed up with a Derby win on Labor Day weekend.

This year’s reconfigured Triple Crown is being held without spectators. The Belmont Stakes was run on June 20, followed by the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. Initially, Churchill Downs officials pushed the Derby back four months hoping fans could attend, then said attendance would be limited before ruling out spectators altogether. The Preakness concludes the Triple Crown on Oct. 3, and the winner earns an automatic berth in the BC Classic for the first time.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”