Keeneland Race Course is in the running to host the Breeders' Cup World Championships, the biggest weekend of Thoroughbred racing outside the Kentucky Derby.
Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason confirmed Thursday that the Lexington track has asked to be considered for the two-day fall championships as soon as next year.
"Keeneland has told them we are interested in being a Breeders' Cup host site," Thomason told the Herald-Leader. "We're now in the discovery phase for doing that. ... We want to make sure if Keeneland's going to be involved in it, we're going to do it right.
"We're going to do it in a scale and a scope that would provide the patron experience that Breeders' Cup people expect for a world championship event to come to Lexington. And if we can do it in a way that will provide that experience with our existing facility and some temporary facilities that would have to be built, and if we can do it in a way that would enhance our sale — the November Breeding Stock sale, the biggest breeding stock sale in the world that happens right after the Breeders' Cup's completed — then we'll be interested in hosting it in Lexington."
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Reached Thursday evening, Breeders' Cup chairman Bill Farish would say only, "We don't comment on potential host track sites."
A decision on where the races will be run in 2015 is expected within a few months.
For 30 years, the Breeders' Cup has been held at 10 different racetracks, but since 2008 it has rotated between Santa Anita Park in California and Churchill Downs in Louisville, with the 2014 races scheduled to return to Santa Anita for the third year in a row on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
However, Breeders' Cup officials have said they are considering the idea of a permanent home or a finite rotation.
"Breeders' Cup is in a strategic planning process where they are trying to decide their criteria for site selection for the next number of years and how they are going to go about it," Thomason said.
Asked why Keeneland wanted to host the Breeders' Cup, Thomason said, "It should be in Kentucky; our breeding industry wants it. It would be a homecoming for the Breeders' Cup.
"This area provides the majority of the horses who are running in the Breeders' Cup; our community is a horse community. If they come here, they know the excitement that's going to be generated out of Lexington and Fayette County to do it."
Keeneland would produce "an event like the Breeders' Cup's never seen," Thomason said. "It's coming to the center of the horse capital of the world. We know it would be an amazing Breeders' Cup. The issue would be how would we manage having an event of the scope."
The two days of races have $27 million in purses, including the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, which is run on a Saturday and shown live in prime time on NBC.
Keeneland vice president Vince Gabbert said the Lexington track had hosted as many as 40,000 patrons on its largest days and could accommodate an extra 25,000 or so with temporary facilities. In 2010, the year Zenyatta competed in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Churchill Downs accommodated about 64,000 patrons, Gabbert said.
Gabbert had no comment on whether Keeneland planned to return to dirt and get rid of its Polytrack racing surface. Santa Anita had a different artificial surface, but after complaints from trainers the track switched back to dirt before the 2012 Breeders' Cup. No Breeders' Cup has been run on an artificial surface since 2011.
Keeneland considered the idea of going for the Breeders' Cup for the track's 75th anniversary in 2011, but that apparently never got off the ground.
The track is serious this time, Thomason said.
The track would have to get permission from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and possibly extend its racing meet into dates traditionally held by Churchill Downs. Churchill Downs also has expressed interest in hosting future Breeders' Cup championships.
"There's obstacles," Thomason conceded.
He said Keeneland has not approached the Louisville track. Churchill officials had no immediate comment.