When the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships comes to Lexington later this month, it may seem like the whole city is rolling out the red carpet. But for one extra special group of people — the influencers who will decide if Keeneland gets the Breeders' Cup again — the carpet will be purple.
This group — referred to behind the scenes as the Purple Bubble — will have access to a whole host of special amenities over and above the hospitality extended to the average racing fans.
"As we have all of these participants in from around the world for the Breeders' Cup, we want to make sure they feel extra special," said Bryan Pettigrew, senior vice president for marketing and sponsorships for the Breeders' Cup. "The goal is to make it different from any other race day in the world."
Officials from the Breeders' Cup, Keeneland, VisitLex, Commerce Lexington and many local businesses will be doing their best to smooth the way for the best experience, particularly for people in the Purple Bubble.
Who is in the Purple Bubble? Among others, the 14 directors of the Breeders' Cup board, including chef and horse owner Bobby Flay; Barbara Banke, head of Jackson Family Wines and Stonestreet Farm; Breeders' Cup chairman Bill Farish, who's family owns Lane's End Farm; and Gainesway Farm owner and South African winemaker Antony Beck.
Also in: Owners of the horses in championship races, possibly including award-winning composer Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, who might be coming; horse-loving celebrities, like Breeders' Cup ambassadors Laura Bell Bundy and Kate Upton; and major stallion farm owners, who help make the Breeders' Cup possible.
"There may be 160 horses in the Breeders' Cup, and only 13 are winners, but we want everyone to think it was worth it to come," said Bob Elliston, Breeders' Cup executive vice president and COO. "We want to make sure they have the enhanced experience that elevates the whole thing to be something memorable."
Organizers are set up to deliver the best possible time for the 1,000 or so people who will sway whether Keeneland, which is hosting The Breeders' Cup this year for the first time ever, gets the annual event again, said Kip Cornett, chairman of the Breeders' Cup Festival.
Last year, when the Breeders' Cup board weighed whether or not to bring their biggest annual event to Central Kentucky, "their main concern was our hospitality infrastructure," Cornett said. "Restaurants and hotels."
Could Lexington meet needs in the same way Los Angeles or New York could? Probably not, Lexington leaders conceded. But they could give people something those cities weren't likely to: wild enthusiasm.
To L.A. or New York, the Breeders' Cup is just another event; to Lexington, it's a big deal for everyone from casual fans to local businesses, Cornett said.
What does being in the Purple Bubble get you? For starters, it gives you first dibs places to stay, like some of the best hotel rooms. But many in the Purple Bubble are used to something more than average hotel fare.
For them, "we have 50 private homes, very nice homes we've inspected, to choose from," Cornett said. "Some are in Chevy Chase, some are condos downtown. Some are on horse farms." Less than 10 had been spoken for with less than a month to go, but organizers expect more will be rented closer to race date.
Even Cornett's home on Ashland Avenue is up for rent. Like the rest, it's available for $500 a night per bedroom, he said.
"If Andrew Lloyd Webber wants it, it's his," Cornett said.
Need a car? The Breeders' Cup has on-call shuttling and plenty of ground transportation for the Purple Bubble.
Need help finding a place to park a private jet? They can help with that, too.
"It's really kind of unlimited concierge service," Elliston said.
Making it to the Breeders' Cup is no small achievement and is expensive, especially for overseas competitors. It can take big bucks to buy a championship caliber horse, race it at the top level for a year and possibly pay hefty Breeders' Cup entry fees and then ship horse, trainer, groom, etc. to Kentucky.
And if a horse makes to the championships, owners often want to bring a few friends to the party. That's a lot of pampering.
"We're just trying to think of everything they might need," Pettigrew said.
For example, those in the Purple Bubble probably won't have any trouble getting a restaurant reservation in the area. Many places have set aside tables for the Purple Bubble, which is good because most top eateries are already at 90 percent capacity. So, for example, if Flay wants to take a group of friends to Coles 735 Main, one of his favorite Lexington restaurants apparently, he only has to ask.
"Local restaurants have been very supportive," Elliston said. "We have a specific code that we give to people who win 'Win and You're In' races."
If the horse owner calls a local restaurant — like Dudley's on Short, Tony's, Coles, Malone's, etc. — and gives the secret password, they can get in.
There are also plenty of special events just for them as well, such as the Breeders' Cup Breakfast Marquee for owners who want to watch their horses work in the mornings at Keeneland; a draw party on Monday evening at the Maker's Mark Bourbon Lounge at the track; and one of Lexington's top dining venues, The Apiary, booked for Breeders' Cup the whole week for horse owners to eat, drink and mingle.
"That's Hospitality Central downtown for the Purple Bubble," Cornett said about the Apiary. Besides the food and the drinks, there will be music from Cocktail Tour, a band from Argentina that sings in three different languages.
"Each night we'll be able to take care of guests there before and after they go to dinner," Pettigrew said.
And there are several events so exclusive they will make you want to run out and buy a horse. For instance, Julian Van Winkle is having an exclusive Pappy Van Winkle tasting for 75 of the purplest of the Purple Bubble on Wednesday at Belle's Cocktail House. Coincidentally, that's the same night that the Kentucky Distillers' Association is pulling out the stops at The Livery on Main Street for Master Distillers' Night at Bourbon Backstretch, which anyone can attend for $100 a ticket.
And then there's Bobby Flay's Taste of the World on Thursday. This private dinner at WinStar Farm will feature more than 20 top chefs from around the world, flown in by private jets, to fix dinner for 1,500. They will be entertained by Grammy Award winner Tim McGraw.
This is the fifth time Flay has put together the Taste of the World dinner for his horse pals, but the first time it's been held at an actual breeding farm.
During the week, many Central Kentucky horse farms will host stallions shows to showcase their stallions to potential breeders, who will be shopping at the breeding stock sales at Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland in the days right after the Breeders' Cup.
Keeneland and horse industry officials believe that the massive effort will pay off in better handle, bigger horse sales and increased profile for the region, which is why they want the championships to return.
"We hope after morning workouts they start looking at horses," Pettigrew said. "Keeneland would love to have everybody go straight to the stable area and look at those horses that are going on sale on Monday."
Needless to say, those in the Purple Bubble get premiere seats at the races on Oct. 30 and 31, from boxes to clubhouse tables to private chalets, as they choose.
Then, after the Breeders' Cup, there is one more big party for the VIPs, sponsors and winners: the Finish Line Celebration on Saturday night at Banke's Stonestreet Farm.
"This is another way of showcasing Lexington and the Bluegrass and the commonwealth," Pettigrew said.
In December, the Breeders' Cup board may decide if Keeneland gets another chance to host. Next year the championships will return to Santa Anita Park outside Los Angeles and in 2017 they will be at Del Mar, near San Diego. After that is still up in the air.
"We're very excited about everything so far — how the community has embraced the Breeders' Cup," "Hopefully it's a Breeders' Cup like no other," Pettigrew said.
When Breeders' Cup officials picked Keeneland as the 2015 race location, they set criteria to evaluate Lexington's success. Among them, the level of community support is critical, Elliston said.
So far, that is "exceeding our expectations," Elliston said. "The Lexington experience has been incredible. That's a feather in the cap of Lexington for the evaluation for future events."