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Breeders Cup – The Richest Two Days in Horse Racing

For nearly three decades, the Breeders’ Cup has been the centerpiece of Thoroughbred Flat Track Racing in the United States. The season-ending set of championships was the brainchild of owner and breeder John R. Gaines, conceived of in 1982 as a way of uniting the horse racing industry. It has grown by leaps and bounds since the inaugural running at Hollywood Park to become a $26 million annual event that attracts some of the most outstanding equine competitors in the world.

When one speaks of the Breeders’ Cup, several different images immediately come to mind. Predominant among them is the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, a Grade I Weight for Age thoroughbred horse race open to three-year olds and above. The race is conducted at different tracks each year, such as Santa Anita and Churchill Downs, but always covering 1¼ miles run on a dirt surface. To date, only once has the race been held outside the United States—at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack in 1996.

Another image is of the 14 graded races that make up the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. They are held over the course of two full days, culminating in the Classic itself. The others include races determined by distance and surface—the Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile, Sprint, Mile, Turf, Grade II Turf Sprint, and Grade III Marathon—and by the entrants: Filly & Mare Sprint, Filly & Mare Turf, Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Grade II Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Grade II Juvenile Turf. One other special race is the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic with a $2 million purse for three-year-olds and up, run over 1-and-1/8 mile.

A third image is of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Races, fourteen of them in all, arranged at various venues around the country between April and October. The winners of these races automatically qualify for the Championships in early November, and with a maximum of only 14 starters allowed in each race, the competition is heated.

One unique aspect of the Breeders’ Cup Championships is that they are non-invitational. Any thoroughbred in the world may pre-enter and compete, as long as eligibility requirements are met. To avoid oversubscription, the criteria for qualification includes performance in Breeders’ Cup Challenge Races, a point system applied through out the race season, and the judgment of a panel of horse racing experts. Following pre-entry, any remaining vacancies in the Championship fields are filled by horses in order of panel preference.

Most of the past winners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic have been American bred, such as Azeri, A.P. Indy, Alysheba, Cigar, Curlin, Personal Ensign, Ferdinand, Sunday Silence, and Zenyatta, among others. The latter was the first female to take the Classic, capping off an undefeated season in 2009. French and Irish breeders have fared well in the Championships, too. Andre Fabre’s 133-to-1 Arcangues took the Classic in 1993 at Santa Anita and paid $269.20, still the highest payoff in Breeders’ Cup history, and Raven’s Pass held off all challengers to win in 2008, also at the California track.

In 2009, a crowd of over 96,000 fans attended the two days of the Championships at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree course, which were televised to more than 130 countries around the globe. The total purse for all 14 races topped $25.5 million, and over $100 million in winnings were paid out to bettors worldwide.

No doubt, the rewards for handicapping the Championships correctly can be enormous. In 1993, a Breeders’ Cup Pick 7 ticket paid $1,549,114.00 for a $2 wager. Ten years later, a Pick 6 coupon paid $2,687,611.20. Starting in September, wagers may be placed on the various Breeders’ Cup Championship races via race books, simulcast locations, U.K. bookmakers, and Internet betting exchanges. Fields are set a few days prior to post time in early November.

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