Fayette County

Breeders’ Cup festival is a year away. Find out what will be new, different.

Breeders’ Cup announced to return to Keeneland in 2020

Breeders' Cup Chairman Fred Hertrich, joined by dignitaries including U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and Mayor Jim Gray, officially announced that the 2020 Breeders' Cup would be returning to Keeneland for the second time after previously hosting it in 2015.
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Breeders' Cup Chairman Fred Hertrich, joined by dignitaries including U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and Mayor Jim Gray, officially announced that the 2020 Breeders' Cup would be returning to Keeneland for the second time after previously hosting it in 2015.

When Lexington hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 2015, it quickly set the standard for the international horse racing event.

“There is no question that our 2015 Breeders’ Cup was hailed as one of our best and one of the key components of that success was the incredible festival and the support of the people of Lexington,” said Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup president and CEO.

Lexington was not “one of the best” hosts ever, said Bill Thomason, president of Keeneland, at a press conference Tuesday, the official kick-off of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Festival planning.

“It was THE best Breeders’ Cup ever,” Thomason said. “I’ve heard that from people all over the world.”

Lexington plans to top the 2015 event when the race returns Nov. 6-7 in 2020, said Kip Cornett, the Breeders’ Cup Festival chairman.

Cornett announced Tuesday the appointment of the 25-person volunteer committee that will help the city of Lexington go bigger and better for the festival. The exact dates for the festival will be announced in coming months, Cornett said.

Cornett also chaired the 2015 festival committee.

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Craig Fravel, President and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, speaks at a press conference at the Old Fayette County Court House in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

The city learned a lot from the 2015 event.

In 2015, the early days of the festival were rained out and so were some of the biggest musical acts planned for the festival.

“We will not be messing with Mother Nature,” Cornett said. The musical acts and entertainment will be in indoor or in covered venues such as the 5th/3rd Pavilion or the Burl and Manchester Music Hall.

Another change will be the addition of an international village in downtown. The details are still being worked out but the purpose of the village is to highlight the Breeders’ Cup international ties.

“It’s an international sporting event just like the World Cup or the Olympics,” Cornett said. Countries will have tents in downtown. Those tents could highlight food or drink from a country—such as beer from Ireland.

Cornett said they will also do a better job incorporating downtown restaurants into the festival programming. For example, some restaurants may offer different menus highlighting a country.

More downtown restaurants, bars and music venues have opened since 2015. That means the city can offer more to Breeders’ Cup guests, he said.

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Bill Thomason, Keeneland CEO, speaks at a press conference at the Old Fayette County Court House in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

The 2015 Lexington-hosted Breeders’ Cup brought in $4 million to $4.5 million more than it did in 2014, when it was held at Santa Anita. Fravel said Tuesday that the group generated more than $17 million at the Lexington 2015 event.

Keeneland augmented available seating during the 2015 race adding tents and chalets. The Friday races drew a crowd of 44,947, a record for Keeneland, topped by the Saturday crowd of 50,155.

Keeneland will be ready once again to host the international event, Thomason said Tuesday.

In 2015, $750,000 in private fundraising and sponsorships were used to pay for the festival. The city of Lexington gave in-kind donations—such as set up, clean up and police services but did not give a direct allocation for the festival.

Cornett said organizers don’t plan on asking for city or state money to host the event in 2020. CHI Saint Joseph has agreed to be one of the main sponsors of the festival again this year, Cornett said.

But the committee will need even more money to top the 2015 festival. It hopes to raise $1 million in sponsorships and through fundraising, he said.

“The more dough, the better the show,” Cornett joked.

One thing that won’t change — the traffic management plan.

“It was the most amazing traffic control in Breeders’ Cup history,” Fravel said.

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