by Greg Melikov - 10/11/2005
A group of horse racing leaders got together in 1982 to figure out how to promote the Sport of Kings in a memorable way.
Led by John R. Gaines, former owner of Gainesway Farm near Lexington, Kentucky, the group aimed to showcase the sport in a grand finale of the racing season.
"Championship day is unquestionably racing's finest hour - it defines our reason for being and elevates the spirit of the entire industry," said Gaines, considered the founding father of the Breeders' Cup, who passed away this year.
Right from the start, BC Day was a big success. The event was first staged on Nov. 10, 1984, when more than 64,000 fans turned out at Hollywood Park, which hosted the event three times.
The Breeders' Cup changed venues yearly. Each fall, the BC baton is passed to a different North American track. Churchill Downs holds the records for both attendance and total wagering for Breeders' Cup history. The Louisville track, which has hosted the Greatest Day in Racing five times, attracted more than 80,452 spectators in '98 and more than $108 million was wagered in '00.
In addition, Churchill Downs was awarded the '04 races, but bowed out because it couldn't guarantee the track's massive refurbishing project would be completed in time. So Lone Star Park staged the event and the Texas oval drew rave notices.
Races were staged three times at San Anita and Gulfstream Park. The 22nd renewal will be held for the fourth time at Belmont Park on Oct. 29. One of the most memorable BC Classics there saw Cigar end his perfect '95 season with a 2 ½-length victory over 51-1 longshot L'Carriere. These World Thoroughbred Championships, added to the Breeders' Cup moniker several years ago, number eight races with $14 million in purses. The card has become the cornerstone of a year-round program that has allocated more than $380 million to owners and breeders alike. In addition, most divisional champions crowned during the past two decades have participated in a BC event.
In '86, a separate $250,000 BC Cup Steeplechase, run two weeks earlier than the series at a different track, was added. But it was discontinued after '93 and a turf race for fillies and mares was added in '99. D.G. Van Clief Jr., president of Breeders' Cup Limited, was responsible for BC's early development and funding, overseeing the inaugural running. He was interim CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association in 1998 and serves on the boards of Blood-Horse Magazine, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and The Jockey Club Foundation.
"The program was looked at as a revolutionary step when it started, but now it is considered part of the fabric of American racing," he said. The BC World Thoroughbred Championships has grown in popularity so much so that races have attracted outstanding horses from Great Britain and France to Germany and Japan and are televised to more than two-dozen countries.