The Breeders' Cup is coming to Lexington later this week, bringing to town many of the biggest names in horse racing.
Not familiar with the Breeders' Cup? Here's a primer on why it's such an important event:
What is the Breeders' Cup? The Breeders' Cup began in 1984 as a season-ending championship of sorts for Thoroughbred racing. The event features the best horses from America — and many of the best from around the world — competing for some of the richest purses of the year. It has evolved into the year's biggest day — now two days — of racing.
Why does it last two days? The first Breeders' Cup consisted of seven races run on a single day, and that was the format until the Filly & Mare Turf race was added in 1999. Three more new races were added in 2007, and the event moved to two days for the first time to accommodate the growing card. There have been as many as 15 races on a single Breeders' Cup card (in 2011 and 2012), but the current format is 13 races.
Why are there 13 races? The assortment of races allows for horses from all divisions to find a suitable spot to compete. For example: Four races are restricted to 2-year-olds only, five races feature only female Thoroughbreds and all races feature differing distances and track surfaces. The varied card allows owners and trainers to find the right fit for each competitor.
What is the biggest race? The Breeders' Cup Classic — first won by 31-1 shot Wild Again in 1984 — has become akin to the Super Bowl of Thoroughbred racing. The 1¼-mile race originally had a purse of $3 million, which has now increased to $5 million. Past winners of the Classic include such famous names as Sunday Silence, Unbridled, A.P. Indy, Cigar, Skip Away, Tiznow and Zenyatta. Early favorites for this year's race are Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and super mare Beholder, who will attempt to become just the second female to win the Classic.
How many horses are involved and where are they from? Each race has a maximum of 14 competitors, but not all of the races will reach that number. There were a total of 159 starters for the 13 races in 2014. Seventeen different countries and 20 different U.S. states have sent horses to the Breeders' Cup starting gate over the years.
Are all the races on TV? Yes. All four of the Friday races will be televised nationally on the NBC Sports Network, with a three-hour live broadcast beginning at 3 p.m. WKYT's CW-Lexington channel will show the first two races on the Saturday card at 12:05 and 12:45 p.m., then NBCSN will show the next four races starting at 1 p.m. Saturday's live coverage switches to NBC at 4 p.m., for the final three races — culminating with the Breeders' Cup Classic at about 5:35 p.m.
What do the winners get? The purses vary in size — from $1-5 million — depending on the race. The connections of each winner also receive a replica of the Breeders' Cup Trophy, an authentic bronze reproduction of the original Torrie horse that was created by Flemish sculptor Giambologna in the late 1580s, as well as a flower garland comprised of Beauty Asters, Golden Asters, Cremons and Cattleya Orchids.
This is the first Breeders' Cup at Keeneland. Where else has it been held? The Breeders' Cup has traditionally been held at tracks with larger capacities, starting at Hollywood Park in California in 1984. Churchill Downs and Santa Anita Park have hosted the event eight times each, and Santa Anita is scheduled to host it for a record ninth time next year. Other tracks that have been home to the Breeders' Cup include Arlington (Ill.), Aqueduct (N.Y.), Belmont (N.Y.), Gulfstream (Fla.), Lone Star (Texas), Monmouth (N.J.) and Woodbine (Ont.). Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in California is set to host in 2017.