The Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships is a series of races designed to showcase the world’s best Thoroughbreds, and often serves to decide year-end championships in the United States of America. There are fourteen races in all, each a Grade I event; seven of the races are run on the dirt (or, in some instances, synthetic tracks) and seven are run on the grass.
The series takes place over two days, with the first day being called “Future Stars Friday” and featuring the five Breeders’ Cup races restricted to two-year-olds. The other races are run the next day, culminating in the highlight of the event: the Breeders’ Cup Classic, run at 1 ¼ miles on the dirt.
One defining feature of the Breeders’ Cup is that it has no singular home. Like the Olympics, the Breeders’ Cup races are held at different tracks each year.
All of the editions have taken place in the United States except for one: the 1996 series, which was held at Woodbine in Canada. Last year the race was held in Del Mar in California, for the second time. The first was in 2017. You can find out more about the Del Mar race track here: twinspires.com/race-tracks/del-mar
Why does the series move from racetrack to racetrack?
It goes back to the ideas that John Gaines had when developing the concept for the Breeders’ Cup in the early 1980s.
Prior to the inauguration of the Breeders’ Cup series in 1984, true international competition was relatively rare. For several years, only the Washington D.C. International, a 1 ½ mile race (at the time of the creation of the Breeders’ Cup) on the grass, drew attention from foreign racers. The race was popular and prestigious, and gave racing fans in America a chance to see their favorites face some of the top horses worldwide. Notable winners of “the International” include Kelso, the five-time Horse of the Year who won the race in 1964 after three consecutive second-place finishes, and Dahlia, a Grade I winner in France and Ireland.
In 1975, a race was run at the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita Park. The race, held at 1 ¼ miles on dirt, was called the National Thoroughbred Championship, and it was designed to attract the best horses in and beyond America.
The first running initially looked to live up to its billing: Europe sent over champion mare Allez France, Argentina was represented by the mare Dulcia, and reigning Horse of the Year Forego was to be the marquee entrant. However, Forego went wrong and was scratched, and Allez France did not tolerate the travel and ran poorly. This left Dulcia’s win feeling a trifle underwhelming, and the race was discontinued in 1977.
Gaines essentially sought to combine and expand upon those concepts. He wanted a competition that would draw the best horses in the world- in multiple divisions, over multiple surfaces. Gaines intended for the series to be broadcast to national and international television audiences, but he also wanted to use that star power to draw racing fans to the track in hopes of witnessing history.
Moving the series each year gave fans from coast to coast that very opportunity and allowed multiple tracks to reap the benefits. Television audiences would also benefit from seeing different locations featured and highlighted every year.
From 1984 until 1989, the series was held in California, New York, Kentucky, and Florida. In later decades, the series traveled to New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, and Ontario, Canada. In all, the series has traveled to a total of 12 different tracks since beginning in 1984.
The Breeders’ Cup 2022 will be held this year at the beautiful Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky.