Breeders Cup World Championships

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Name: Breeders Cup World Championships
Date: November 3, 2017 - November 4, 2017
Event Description:
Del Mar readies for Cup close-up

BRYCE MILLER Columnist

LOUISVILLE, Ky.

If Del Mar racetrack walked onto a Hollywood movie set, someone would be barking for it to rush to the hair and makeup trailer.

As the Kentucky Derby thunders to life for the 143rd time this weekend, Del Mar’s clock shows six months and ticking for its Breeders’ Cup debut in America’s richest horse racing weekend.

Landing a Cup and its dizzying $28 million in purses can be tricky. The event is a creature of habit, hitting Santa Anita nine times and Churchill Downs eight since launching in 1984. Add a combined 10 others among Belmont Park, Gulfstream Park and the now-defunct Hollywood Park, and it illustrates the difficulty of breaking into the club.

So when you do, you spit shine until hands throb tomato-red. You work overtime to wow a tough-to-wow crowd that includes sheiks and princes and NBC cameras straining to lure eyeballs beyond the sport’s niche.

It’s not just the place, but the polish.

What’s at stake: the chance to host another, then another and another. In that regard, Del Mar has established a solid, four-hooved head of steam.

“The hardest part,” Breeders’ Cup CEO Craig Fravel said Wednesday amid the maze of Churchill Downs stables, “might be getting people to leave on Sunday when it’s over.”

Del Mar already has pushed the host of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup into the ticket-sales rearview mirror. Fravel said sales at the site where Bing Crosby famously crooned about the turf meeting the surf are at about $13.5 million, easily eclipsing Santa Anita’s $9.6 million.

Consider the larger seating capacity at Santa Anita and the half a year that Del Mar has to unload the few remaining premium and general-admission tickets, and it paints the run-up even more impressively.

Organizers plan to stretch what normally is a long racing weekend into a full-blown festival, with more than 20 events that include a golf tournament at Torrey Pines, art walk in La Jolla and 5K run along the ocean.

They’re going to haul sand into the infield and plop down Adirondack chairs to create a makeshift beach. Craig Dado, the track’s chief marketing officer, said Del Mar is negotiating with music icon and local horse enthusiast Burt Bacharach to perform.

Stone after stone, painstakingly turned.

Del Mar CEO Joe Harper said the track remains laser-focused on details.

“When I was learning to fly years ago, a guy told me that good landings were always preceded by good approaches,” Harper said.

One whip-smart move: Del Mar limited seating — capping it at around 37,500 — to value quality over quantity. The move is intended to shorten lines at concession stands and betting windows. That means two-day tickets for luxury suites, which include food and drinks, run $2,000.

Del Mar could have jammed in as many wallets as possible. Or, as San Diego calls it, opening day. Organizers want to maximize good will and word of mouth, though, among a uniquely international set of visitors.

“It’s not a cheap ticket,” Dado said, “so we need to make sure people have a wonderful time.”

That means Del Mar is learning a new word: sellout.

“We’re actually putting together a media campaign to explain to people that if you don’t have a ticket, don’t come,” Dado said. “Because we’ve never, in the history of Del Mar, had a sellout. We’ve trained people over the years, ‘Yeah, come over. There’s no such thing as a sellout.’ But we’ll be sold out.

“It’s like a Lakers basketball game or whatever. If you don’t have a ticket, you’re not going to get in.”

Joining the Breeders’ Cup club has produced competitive ripples. Harper said he’s seen an increase in top horses during the summer and fall meets, along with appearances by more East Coast owners and trainers. The sport is scrambling to scout the facility where giant checks will be handed out in November.

Del Mar expects to see even more momentum during the upcoming summer meet.

“When we got the nod, all of a sudden I was seeing people who don’t normally come to Del Mar,” Harper said.

The looming Breeders’ Cup lured Javier Castellano, the four-time reigning Eclipse Award winner as the sport’s outstanding jockey. Castellano has made 25,648 career starts and earned more than $276 million, yet remained a Del Mar rookie.

“He said, ‘I’ve never been here. This is great,’ ” Harper said. “I said, ‘Yeah, that thing up in the sky is the sun — in November.’ ”

This weekend, the horse racing world will lock eyes on the regal, rugged, renowned Kentucky Derby. Soon, that gaze will shift to a spirited darling along the San Diego County coast.

“Del Mar is a little underexposed internationally,” said Fravel, who worked at Del Mar for 21 years. “We’ve got a lot of longtime Breeders’ Cup patrons who’ve never been there.”

There’s no doubt that Del Mar is a beauty, albeit a charmer in the shadows. The hair-and-makeup-trailer stretch run simply positions it for the glamour shot.

And right now, the picture looks pretty darn good.

bryce.miller@sduniontribune.com

Event Media:
Location:
Del Mar Race Track
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd
Del Mar, CA  92104    
Date/Time Information:
November 3 - 4, 2017
Gates open at 8:00am first post is at 11:00am
Contact Information:
Fees/Admission:
For available inventory...
Go to www.breederscup.com