The Breeders' Cup will take place in 2015 at Keeneland in Lexington, where the idea for the event was conceived, but, before now, has never been held. The horse racing will take place on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 30 and 31, of next year, but planning is now underway to welcome and celebrate the cup's arrival in Lexington with a series of events in the days leading up to the races. Kip Cornett, right, is chairman of the 2015 Breeders' Cup Keeneland Host Committee.
Tom Martin: Some people might say, 'Why are we talking about this now? It seems a little premature.' But is that really the case?
Kip Cornett: The Breeders' Cup is in that space of a Wimbledon, of a Super Bowl, of a Final Four. It takes a lot of people a lot of time to make sure that the event goes off well.
Martin: What is the make-up of the host committee?
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Cornett: We wanted to make sure that we had representatives from every facet of the community, some from the private sectors, some from the public sector, some relatively newcomers to the scene.
Martin: You've been involved in planning and executing some pretty big events in recent years including the Spotlight Festival that was a big component of the World Equestrian Games. Similar to the Breeders' Cup?
Cornett: It's different, and I think the main difference is that Spotlight was 17 days. One of the things we were looking at for Breeders' Cup has been a Wednesday-through-Sunday event with the critical mass of fans coming in on Wednesday and staying through the end of the weekend. Our hope is to make it more of a week. If we're successful in pushing this out to a week it will still be 10 days less than the World Equestrian Games and Spotlight.
Martin: Breeders' Cup recently announced new marketing initiatives including a multimedia partnership with NBC that will involve increased engagement with the network's lifestyle personalities and a partnership with Sports Illustrated and People magazines. What does that mean for Lexington?
Cornett: I think it means great things. The Breeders' Cup was a grand vision of John Gaines back in 1984. And to be quite honest — and I think the Breeders' Cup would admit this — this is an event that's never fulfilled its full potential. It was meant to be the "Super Bowl." But if you stop 10 people on the streets outside of Lexington, Kentucky, and said, "What's the Super Bowl of racing," they would say the Kentucky Derby.
The Breeders' Cup did some self-evaluation and said, "Here is where we are as a world championship. We are very, very successful within the Thoroughbred industry, but among multimedia properties we've not cracked the code there; we have not accomplished that part of it, and until we do, we're only going to be a successful event inside horse racing."
What that means for Lexington is we're going to have a four-hour commercial on Saturday afternoon on NBC, which is huge. People are going to tune in and say, "My gosh, what a wonderful city. What a wonderful race course. What a wonderful group of people."
The week leading up to it will see the sister network of NBC, NBC Sports Network, continually talking about what's going on in Lexington, Kentucky.
Martin: Is the host committee beginning to grasp a vision of the character of this event?
Cornett: Whatever we do is going to have a very authentic Kentucky feel. Early on the charge has been "Let's make sure we portray who we are." Does bluegrass music play part of this? Well, of course it should. Does our bourbon industry play part of this? Of course it will; the uniqueness of our food offerings, all those different things. And, the personality of our people; we need to make sure that comes through loud and clear.
We are going to look at designating festival zones like we did with Spotlight. The Jefferson Street Soiree that we did was extremely successful, a lot of fun and kind of a trial balloon for the Breeders' Cup. One thing that I've not touched on that we all need to start to wrap our heads around is the weekend of the Breeders' Cup is also going to be a home University of Kentucky football game against a very well-known opponent that travels very well.
So, if you take what could be going on that weekend in the college sports world, the world's championship of horse racing and also an event at Alltech Arena called the National Horse Show, and other things that go on in the city besides those, it's going to be a weekend unlike we've ever experienced in the city in terms of energy and electricity. But it also brings a ton of logistics challenges. There's going to be strain on all of our hospitality infrastructure, and how do we make sure that that goes off as well as it humanly can?
Martin: Are you going to begin festivities on a Monday or Sunday and lead up to the Breeders' Cup?
Cornett: More than likely we'll go from Sunday to Sunday. One thing that's pretty clear is a very likely possibility that Keeneland could sell out. There is a definitive number that once they reach that, that's it — no other people can fit on the grounds based on the infrastructure they've created.
Martin: And what is the number?
Cornett: Approximately 45,000. The largest crowd Keeneland has ever had in its history was 42,000, and most of those people were crammed into the grandstand. There's going to be a ton of luxury seating like you see for golf tournaments and full utilization of the campus. It's going to be a very good experience for the people to go there.
And then, what do we do for those people who want to be part of this but can't for many different reasons, whether it's ticketing, ticket prices? This is not to mention all of our friends from out of town that are going to be coming in for a football game and are going to want to be part of this. We're going to have to create a secondary experience and more than likely that location will be downtown, where we're going to try to replicate as much as we can everything that you can experience at Keeneland right down to burgoo and bread pudding.
We want to see if it would be possible to do a satellite wagering site with a very large jumbotron like you saw in the World Cup. We know we're going to need to do that.
There are plenty of people that go to Super Bowl and never go to the game. They just want to be part of the vibe.
We want to create that Keeneland Breeders' Cup vibe as much as we can in a venue like downtown where people can come and enjoy it.
Martin: Any idea how locating a Breeders' Cup in Lexington has been received among fans?
Cornett: It's interesting. When the Breeders' Cup announced their sites — L.A., San Diego and Lexington — the hits on their website as related to volunteering had San Diego at 300, L.A. was right at 300, Lexington was 4,000.
So, the good news is we have a lot of people interested. But, you know, going from interest to participation is that next step. And again, it's really going to come down to I have supreme confidence in Keeneland's ability to put on a world-class show. They've been doing it since 1936.
The experience at Keeneland is going to be off the hook.