How the Breeders’ Cup Got Its Start

Horse Racing Radar
Valerie Mellema
Valerie Mellema is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Wednesday, October 14, 2020

For true championships to consolidate, someone must draw the pieces together. The American and National Leagues came together to play the World Series in 1903. Pro football got the NFL and AFL together in the Super Bowl in 1967. It all came together for Thoroughbred horseracing in 1984 with the inaugural Breeders' Cup Championship Series.


The originator of the Breeders' Cup was owner and breeder John R. Gaines, who wanted to elevate public opinion of the Sport of Kings as well as provide a late-season series of races that would amount to a championship meet. Prize money for the events was to be provided by money resulting from stud fees charged by stallion owners, plus a nomination fee for any new foal that might one day run in one of the series races. This is where the name "Breeders' Cup" arises. Both American and foreign horses are permitted to enter the process of qualifying for the cup series, making it more of a world championship than any other horseracing series.


For the first two decades of its existence, the Breeders' Cup Championship Series was a one-day event. As its popularity and prominence grew, it expanded in 2007 to a two-day series of races. Several different tracks have hosted the series over the years, including Hollywood, Churchill Downs, Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Woodbine. This year the races will again be at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky.


It's important to note that entry into a Breeders' Cup race is earned. Racehorses gain points based upon their performances in races leading up to the series. Some horses do so well during the year that they can choose from several different races. For many horses, however, the last few weeks before the Breeders' Cup is an anxious time as they participate in the final stakes races of the season. The phrase "win and you're in" is a reference to a horse's chance to gain last-minute entry into a Breeders' Cup race.


The number to remember for Breeders' Cup races is 14. There are 14 separate races to be held Friday and Saturday, November 6-7. Each race can have a maximum field of 14 qualifying horses. The total purse for all Breeders' Cup races is $28 million, with the largest purse to be awarded for the Longines Classic—$6 million.

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