Racing’s richest event is truly a movable feast. Each fall, a different North American track plays host to the Breeders’ Cup in a unique and special way. One year finds it at Churchill Downs with its rich trove of history, another at stately Belmont Park, the next at panoramic Santa Anita in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Major tracks compete aggressively for the right to stage the championship program and each year’s selection is eagerly awaited. At the same time, the revolving nature of the Breeders’ Cup ensures that it belongs to all of racing.
That’s just what its founders envisioned when the concept of the Breeders’ Cup took root in 1982. Racing’s leaders wanted a vehicle to promote the sport, a showcase for its finest elements, and a grand finale to the racing season.
The Championship races became the cornerstone of a year-round program which has allocated more than $380 million to owners and breeders since the inaugural 1984 event. The first Breeders’ Cup, at glitzy Hollywood Park, was an instant hit.
Since then, the Breeders’ Cup has redefined the racing calendar — becoming the season-ending goal for the best horses — and giving the sport a championship event much like the World Series or the Super Bowl.
In addition to the Classic, the other races are the Juvenile and the Juvenile Fillies, the Distaff and the Filly & Mare Turf for females ages three and up; the Sprint, the Mile, and the Turf. The latter three are open to horses of both sexes, as is the Classic.
"Championship day is unquestionably racing’s finest hour," says John R. Gaines, founding father of the Breeders’ Cup and former owner of Gainesway Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. "It defines our reason for being and elevates the spirit of an entire industry."
Each year is special. Each year is better. One of the event’s most exciting elements is the intense rivalry between North American and European contenders. In almost every race, national pride is on the line. Owners and trainers from England, Ireland, France, Japan, and Germany now circle the Breeders’ Cup on their calendars and plan their horses’ schedules accordingly.
Horses have journeyed from as far away as Japan to compete in the Breeders’ Cup. It truly has become the foremost international racing event.
In a short time, the Breeders’ Cup has been firmly established as Thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious event. Nothing can rival its millions in prize money or its international cast of talent. No other day of racing can match the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships for non-stop excitement.
The Breeders’ Cup has accomplished what its founders set out to do — and more. It remains the definitive test of champions and has become racing’s most recognizable and successful showpiece. It only promises to improve in the years to come.