Fayette County

Breeders’ Cup officials hail Lexington as a success as host city

Racing fans waited for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, featuring Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, on Oct. 31, the second day of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland.
Racing fans waited for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, featuring Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, on Oct. 31, the second day of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland. Lexington Herald-Leader

Lexington set a new standard for cities hosting the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, and it appears likely the city will entertain the racing event again, Breeders’ Cup officials said Tuesday.

In a discussion of the Breeders’ Cup’s economic impact on Lexington, Breeders’ Cup president and CEO Craig Fravel told a group of local businesspeople that while board members have the final say on where the event is held, “we’ve yet to talk to one who isn’t ecstatic” with Lexington’s showing this fall.

“All the things we set out to do with the Keeneland Breeders’ Cup, I’m happy to say we accomplished,” he said. “I feel confident we will be back.”

The discussion, held at Red Mile, was the first installment of a speakers series presented by the Bluegrass Sports Commission.

Early figures indicate the Breeders’ Cup brought in $4 million to $4.5 million more this year than it did in 2014, Fravel said.

This is the new standard

Bob Elliston, Breeders’ Cup chief operating officer

The race was held at Santa Anita for three years before coming to Lexington last month, and Fravel said it was almost as though “we only had two homes” — Santa Anita and sometimes Churchill Downs.

While there was concern about whether a city Lexington’s size could pull off the event, Fravel said the organization began considering a possible partnership with Keeneland because he thought “it would be healthy for a more competitive environment to take place.”

It had been more than three decades since the event had been held here.

“It’s put a new energy into the Breeders’ Cup,” he said. “It’s made other people stand up and take notice.”

$65 million Projected economic impact of Breeders’ Cup on Lexington

Breeders’ Cup chief operating officer Bob Elliston said people thought the Lexington Breeders’ Cup would be “insular,” attended only by racing industry insiders.

But he told Tuesday’s crowd that 65 percent of attendees who were polled on-site said they had never been to a Breeders’ Cup before.

Fravel said he hoped that early next year the Breeders’ Cup board will select host sites for 2018, 2019 and possibly 2020.

“I have a pretty strong suspicion one of those years is going to be back here at Keeneland,” he said.

450 Private jets at Blue Grass Airport during Breeders’ Cup weekend

The Breeders’ Cup was expected to have a $65 million impact on Lexington.

While exact figures are still unavailable, Mary Quinn Ramer, president of VisitLex, said several metrics indicated a financial success.

She said special efforts were made to give people a reason to come into town early, and it appeared to have worked.

Ramer said 1,100 tickets were sold for special horse farm tours in the early part of Breeders’ Cup week.

Attendance at the draw party before the Breeders’ Cup was 1,500, which Elliston said was equal to the attendance of the previous seven years’ draw parties added together.

(He admitted that the presence of University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari might have had “a little” to do with that.)

Lexington’s hotel occupancy was 95 percent during Breeders’ Cup weekend, and 75 percent during the week of Breeders’ Cup, Ramer said.

The average daily rate for hotel stays during Breeders’ Cup weekend was $245, compared to an average daily rate of $110 in October 2014, she said.

Ramer said 450 private jets parked or picked up passengers at Blue Grass Airport over Breeders’ Cup weekend.

Elliston said the Breeders’ Cup appreciated all that the city did to welcome visitors, from the festival featuring live music downtown to new landscaping on major thoroughfares.

“This is the new standard,” he said.