Breeders' Cup Ltd. officially began a new era on Friday when it was announced Craig Fravel, president and general manager of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, has been named president and chief executive officer of the Lexington-based organization.
Fravel, 54, resigned from Del Mar with an effective date of June 30 and will assume his duties with Breeders' Cup beginning July 18. The longtime racetrack executive becomes the fifth president and chief executive in the history of Breeders' Cup, succeeding Greg Avioli.
Avioli left in March to head up the racing and gaming division of Frank Stronach's MI Developments.
"This business begins and ends with the horses, and it is the charge of the Breeders' Cup to make sure that our passion for breeding and racing is shared by the public," Fravel said in a statement.
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According to Breeders' Cup Chairman Tom Ludt, the Breeders' Cup search committee led by executive-search firm Spencer Stuart narrowed a pool of more than 60 applicants down to seven candidates before coming up with two finalists for the job.
Ludt said the Breeders' Cup board voted "overwhelmingly" in favor of Fravel, who joined the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club as its executive vice president in 1990 after working as a partner in the San Diego law firm of Luce, Forward, Hamilton and Scripps.
"We just feel like he has the right skills, he's got great track management, and great relationships within the industry," Ludt said. "We wanted someone with leadership skills and integrity. We did look outside the industry and inside the industry and, when it came right down to it, I think the relationships and reputation Craig has really helps his cause and gives us confidence he was the right pick."
A host site for the 2012 Breeders' Cup is one of the more immediate issues to be addressed but, given his start date, Fravel is not expected to have much involvement in that process.
Despite Fravel's ties to Del Mar, Ludt said, the picturesque California track is not considered by the site committee as a candidate to host the 2012 two-day championship event. Churchill Downs, which will host this year's Breeders' Cup Nov. 4-5, is among the finalists for the 2012 site along with Santa Anita Park and Belmont Park.
"His biggest task will be just to get on board and learn the ins and outs of the Breeders' Cup and the current staff," Ludt said of Fravel. "One of the main goals will be trying to get a better plan for the long term of host sites. It's not in our best interest to be picking these sites so close to the dates even though we're still 18 months away."
While at Del Mar, Fravel emerged as a leading racing-industry figure, serving as chairman of Southern California Off-Track Wagering Inc., and chairing the statewide California Marketing Committee.
A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Fravel also oversaw the $80 million reconstruction of the track's grandstand in 1992-93 and the $9 million installation of a synthetic racing surface, which was completed in 2007. His appointment comes after the Breeders' Cup drew a record 114,353 fans for the two-day event at Churchill Downs last November while handling more than $196 million in total wagers worldwide.