Ask Larry Bisig what he’s doing on the first weekend in November, and the Louisville business exec will respond with unbridled enthusiasm: “I’ll be at Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs. Haven’t missed a single one hosted at the track since the first one in 1988.”
The world championships return to the River City for the second year in a row, making this the eighth time the thoroughbred races have been held at the home of the Kentucky Derby.
Last year, Breeders’ Cup finished under the lights for the first time and set numerous records in everything from the number of people who attended to the number of horses that raced to the number of people who tuned in to watch the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The expectation for 2011 – at least to fans like Bisig – is to surpass those records on Nov. 4 and 5. “If you’re into thoroughbreds, Breeders’ Cup is the Derby times 10 because it’s literally the World Series and the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals all wrapped into one event for horses,” he said.
Not an avid fan of the sport and still looking for that Cinderalla-esque Zenyatta story? There’s still plenty to love about the prestigious event, said Breeders’ Cup Chairman Tom Ludt.
“The great news of having a horse like Zenyatta is having Zenyatta. But we’ll have some real contenders this year,” he said.
Among the names equine aficionados continue to tout as most likely to be the favorite in the $5 million Classic is the filly Havre de Grace. And Goldikova (another filly) returns. Plus, keep an eye out for jockey Chantal Sutherland. The talented – and beautiful – athlete has been referred to more than once as horse racing’s Danica Patrick.
“From a horse perspective, there’s nothing like this weekend,” said Ludt. “(I love) the ability to gather with so many at the end of the day no matter how you got there, if your horse was good enough to get there, you belong there.”
And who can’t relate to that?
Yet, in addition to the equine appeal, Breeders’ Cup will also feature plenty of additions to appeal to the everyday person. “We’re going to do the Friday night,” said Ludt, “so you have that night atmosphere, which has been extremely popular.”
Racing under the lights at the track has helped “get new people to the seats or feet on the bricks” and established that there is an overall experience that can be just as if not more enjoyable to a broader range of people, Bisig said. “Churchill (Downs) has been doing a great job reaching out to that new demographic in a lot of ways. That helps snowball things and … affects Breeders’ Cup too. If you were just there 10 months ago, you’re less hesitant to come back.”
James Atkinson and his wife attended Breeders’ Cup for the first time in 2010. They’ll return again next month. “I went last year to see Zenyatta make history but fall shy. I love racing and feel the city and state pride around it,” he said.
Katie Blair Stephenson will attend again after what she said was an unforgettable experience last year. “I won the biggest bet I have ever bet – after thinking I only won $4 on the ticket! – the weather was beautiful and a nice group of people let us stand in their front row box during the (championship) race so we could get up close and personal with the horses. I shared tears with many people around us after (Zenyatta) lost, but we got to see (her) do her prancey-dance to the gate. Overall, it was one of my favorite days of the year, and I can’t wait to do it again this year.”
Breeders’ Cup should be such an experience for everyone – particularly in 2011, Larry Bisig said. “I really think this year has more going for it than any Breeders’ Cup other than maybe the first one. Last year with Zenyatta, that made for a special year, but this year will be really unique. I think you’re going to see a lot of new faces – and that’s damn good for horse racing.”
Asher offers expert insight
As the days count down to the start of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, we’ve got the inside track on the favorites with Voice-Tribune columnist John Asher.
Asher, who is vice president of racing communications for Churchill Downs, knows a thing or two about the ponies.
See Asher’s Column as he shares insight on Breeders’ Cup contenders and how he thinks they’ll perform. One of the most compelling questions is which horses will adapt to Churchill’s 1-mile dirt track.
Breeders’ Cup Friday Highlights
Zenyatta Reunion Luncheon
Includes an autograph signing with owners Jerry and Ann Moss, trainer John Shirreffs, racing manager Dottie Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith. Even Zenyatta herself is scheduled to make an appearance via live video feed. Runs 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets: $95. Visit www.zenyattashop.com.
Breeders’ Cup “Free Ride” promotion
College students can enter to win a $10,000 scholarship throughout the day.
The Voice-Tribune’s Fascinator & Fedora Friday
The person wearing the best fascinator or fedora will compete for a chance to win $5,000 each.
WHAS11 $10K Fan Payday Sweepstakes
One lucky race fan will win a $10,000 wager on the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. Enter at the WHAS11 booth.
Zenyatta Celebration Hospitality Retreat
The perfect refuge to escape any inclement weather or just a respite from the excitement in the stands while offering private access to the Derby Museum’s full amenities, an afternoon buffet, cash bar, live simulcast and wagering for the Breeders’ Cup races, and even the services of a complimentary handicapper to assist in those wagering selections. Runs 3:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tickets: $75. Visit www.zenyattashop.com.
The Zenyatta Celebration After-Party
Celebrate the close of the races within the impressive and historical setting of the Kentucky Derby Museum. Runs 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tickets: $40. Visit www.zenyattashop.com.
Category: Cover Stories
About the Author (Author Profile)
Angie Fenton is Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune, a Blue Equity company. She is also an entertainment correspondent for WHAS11′s new morning show, “Great Day Live!”, which debuted August 22 on Louisville’s ABC affiliate. Additionally, Angie is an entertainment correspondent for the Saturday Morning Show with Ron ‘n’ Mel Fisher on 84WHAS (840 AM) and has served in the same capacity for Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; Breeders’ Cup; and Circuit of the Americas during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in November 2012. Angie also serves as an emcee, host, voiceover professional and on-camera commercial talent.
Angie has a bachelor’s and master’s in English from Central Michigan University and began her career as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She is the youngest of five — four of whom were adopted, including Angie, and none of whom are biologically related. She is also a Michigan native who moved to Kentucky in June 2002. Angie is owned by two dogs — Herbie and Yoda — and feels lucky to have loved and been loved by many more, including Pooch, Jessie, Onyx, Jack and Big Bud, who took his last breath on Christmas Day 2012.