Just as the Thoroughbred racing community was not stunned at the recent announcement that the Breeders' Cup World Championships was headed back to Santa Anita Park in 2013, the criticism it inspired was something officials had to know was coming.
After 10 different tracks played host during the first 24 runnings of the event, Santa Anita and Churchill Downs have held a monopoly for what will be six consecutive years, sharing the site duties since 2008.
Though a number of fans — and some industry figures — bemoan the perceived demise of founder John Gaines' original rotation vision, officials with Breeders' Cup Ltd. say the growth of the sport's year-end championships has limited the venues that can handle the two-day event.
"I would say one thing critics need to understand is the selection process and the things we value in sites are a lot more complicated than people would maybe take into account," Breeders' Cup President Craig Fravel said last week. "Taking Churchill Downs as an example, in 2013 the Future Farmers of America have their convention (in Louisville) on the first week in November, which is our preferred weekend to run, and there are no hotels available in the city.
"I think one of our challenges is to develop a methodology that allows us to select sites much further out so we can avoid conflicts with those sorts of things that really limit our choices at times."
Santa Anita, which will host the Breeders' Cup for the sixth time this November, has long been an attractive prospect due to its location in a prime market, historically solid handle and attendance, and ideal weather.
In winning the 2013 duties, however, the Arcadia, Calif., track only had to beat out Churchill and Monmouth Park as Belmont Park reportedly did not submit a bid. Attracting ample applicants who tick all the boxes on the Breeders' Cup wish list is the goal, but so too is making sure the event is in a position to be financially viable.
"It is the richest sporting event in the world, as we love to tell everybody, and people forget that we have a lot of issues we have to get around," said Breeders' Cup chairman Tom Ludt. "As we upped the ante to $25 million (in purses), that's kind of put us in a position where we have to provide an environment where we can be profitable or at least break even. So that makes it very difficult.
"But I wasn't disappointed that three tracks were interested on what I consider tough criteria. That was pretty good and it will get better because we will eliminate some of those obstacles."
There is nothing saying the Breeders' Cup has to keep taking its show to different tracks. The idea of a permanent host site has been floated before and is still on the table.
"We're open to it if we could find the right facility. God hasn't delivered it yet," Ludt said. "We talk about it all the time. The board at one point was really close to locking into a long-term commitment. If the right facility presented itself with the terms, we would be very open minded to it."