Racing fans' dream come true? That depends

jpatton1@herald-leader.comJune 24, 2014 

Having the Breeders' Cup, Thoroughbred racing's two-day championships, at elegant Keeneland Race Course means Oct. 30-31, 2015, should be the best weekend ever for Central Kentucky fans, right?

Yes and no.

How much you get to experience will vary depending on how much you can spend. And it will hinge on how lucky you are at getting tickets, which will be limited.

How many people can come?

A lot, but probably not all who will want to.

Keeneland will add 7,000 premium seats to current Keeneland grandstand seating capacity of roughly 8,500.

New box seats and hospitality areas will go up outside the grandstand, so those patrons probably won't have access to the paddock.

The new seats, plus other hospitality areas that will be pressed into use — including the sales pavilion and the entertainment center — will give the track reserved seating capacity of 21,000, Keeneland officials said. Everything above the ground floor will be reserved seating, including the clubhouse.

"Every space is going to be used," Keeneland president Bill Thomason said.

Keeneland also anticipates as many as 10,000 general admission tickets. "It won't be more than that," Thomason said.

There also will be a limited number of general admission tickets for what are now tailgating areas on The Hill, and a new area, The Meadow.

"We've got to make sure we control the grounds," he said of how many will get to come for that.

Thomason declined to put a hard number on potential attendance, but he said they aren't aiming for the numbers that Churchill Downs has seen. (The Breeders' Cup's biggest one-day attendance was 80,452 in 1998; that would be roughly double Keeneland's highest attendance ever.)

Because the championships are over two days, Thomason said, he anticipates that many people will come on Friday if they can't get tickets for Saturday.

So maybe 40,000 to 50,000 each day.

What will the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland be like?

"Intimate" is how Thomason put it. The best of Keeneland will be raised to a new level, with better food, excellent service and top-flight fan experiences, including entertainment.

"I think you're going to see some very unique things around the grounds," he said.

For the lucky few in corporate or private boxes, this could be quite a luxurious experience.

Will I get to see the races?

Sure, just not necessarily on the track.

Everyone, even those at The Hill and The Meadow, will have giant video screens, betting windows, food and beverage amenities, and more.

"Tailgating on The Hill on steroids" was how Thomason described it.

People in the grandstand and in general admission might see the track.

Several of the new hospitality "tents" — temporary but posh seating — also will be trackside, including a South Lawn tent for almost 400 people next to the clubhouse that might become the hottest ticket going.

Two double-decker hospitality areas on the clubhouse parking lot will give an additional 5,622 people a great view of the final turn.

Another double-decker tent behind the saddling paddock will accommodate 1,082 more people who will not have a view of the track. The sales pavilion, the entertainment center, and the Hill and Meadow areas won't have any view of the track.

How much will tickets cost?

No prices were announced Tuesday, but Thomason said they will be in line with other Breeders' Cup tickets. This year's championships at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., will cost $15 (Friday) and $40 (Saturday) a person for general admission, ground-floor access only.

Grandstand seating can be had for $50 to $300 or so, depending on the day and where the seat is.

Box seats can go for $1,999 a person.

Where can I get tickets?

You can't yet. But the Breeders' Cup website, Breederscup.com, is where they will be available. Expect Keeneland and Breeders' Cup to announce more details about when sales will go live. Tickets for this year's event at Santa Anita went on sale in June.

What about my regular Keeneland box?

You won't be able to use it unless you buy Breeders' Cup tickets. But don't count on getting the box you normally use; the 1,500 "loge" or outside box seats will be premium. Indoor corporate boxes also will be sold separately.

Everything starts fresh, Thomason said.

There has been no word yet on where horse owners will get to sit.

Can we go into the infield, as we do for the Kentucky Derby?

No, Keeneland will not open the infield. There will be no muddy masses, no port-a-potty races. Just gorgeous fall color, they hope.

"That's iconic to us, and a beautiful sight when people are looking out across the track," Thomason said. "We're going to do things to make sure people know it's still their Keeneland, their special place."

Will fans be able to walk around the barns, as they do now, and see horses? What about for the sales?

It's still under discussion with horse trainers, but fans probably won't get to walk through the barns used for Breeders' Cup horses, Thomason said. The Rice Road training barns might be used for those horses, Thomason said.

"We've got some places we can secure, without any problem," he said.

The November Breeding Stock Sale, which is to begin on the Monday after the Breeders' Cup, will need to have open barns so potential buyers can see the horses. Most of the track grounds will be open, he said.

Can we tailgate for free as we do for Keeneland meets?

You might be able to tailgate, but it won't be free. Some of the tailgating space along Versailles Road near the final turn will be used for a hospitality tent. Other areas, including The Hill and The Meadow (which Keeneland uses for events like Picnic with the Pops), will be ticketed, but no prices or numbers have been released.

How about traffic?

Keeneland will work with the city to facilitate smooth traffic flow using all three exits: Versailles Road, Rice Road and "the back way" onto Van Meter Road to Old Frankfort Pike.

Plus, Thomason said, there will be more buses and enhanced public transportation to the track, some of which will be tried out this fall and next spring. No word on where they will pick up and drop off.

"People have told us that some of our highest attendance days, when Versailles Road was at 40 percent capacity, was one of the easiest times to get in and out of here because we really work on this traffic flow," he said.

What about the rest of the 2015 fall meet?

The hospitality tents probably will be in place for the whole meet, which could give regular patrons a chance at special hospitality. But that might mean less open, free tailgating. The fall 2014 and spring 2015 meets will be test runs for the Breeders' Cup, so expect to see some new things at the track.

Why isn't the new instant racing venue included?

Because it's under construction. And Keeneland doesn't want to sell tickets for something that might not be ready yet, Thomason said. If it gets finished in time (it is supposed to open in July) then expect another batch of tickets to be available.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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