For the first time in the 26-year history of the Breeders' Cup, it is being held in consecutive years at the same track, and that makes this week's world championships at Santa Anita a rare opportunity to implement lessons learned.
No. 1 on the list is dropping admission prices by as much as 50% from last year and not requiring patrons to purchase tickets for both days of Breeders' Cup racing on Friday and Saturday. "We needed to offer accessible pricing," said Greg Avioli, Breeders' Cup president and chief executive.
General admission has fallen from $20 to $10 each day. Clubhouse admission has dropped from $50 to $25. The lowest price for reserved seats will be $40 on Friday and $55 on Saturday. And tickets are no longer bundled, meaning there's no requirement to attend both days. Children 17 and under and accompanied by an adult may enter for free.
The price adjustments are a recognition of complaints from last year combined with a struggling economy that has seen California's unemployment rate increase to 12.2%.
Attendance last year was 31,527 on Friday and 55,331 on Saturday. Avioli said reaching a total attendance of 85,000 for both days is the goal for this year. Bettors wagered $155 million during the two days in North America on the Breeders' Cup, but the handle has been significantly down during the current Oak Tree meeting, which could be a sign of trouble for this weekend.
One benefit is that the Breeders' Cup reached a simulcasting and licensing agreement with Betfair Group Limited, which allows common-pool wagering to a worldwide customer base of more than 2.5 million people.
Though two of racing's biggest stars, the 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra and the 3-year-old European superstar Sea The Stars, are not coming to the Breeders' Cup, more than 30 foreign-campaigned horses are expected, along with the unbeaten mare Zenyatta, who has won all 13 of her races. On Wednesday, 166 horses were announced as early entries.
The Oak Tree Racing Assn., serving as hosts next weekend, is pulling out all stops to welcome fans and owners to Santa Anita. There will be 250 volunteer workers scattered through the facility ready to provide help, such as finding seats or answering questions about how to place a bet.
Quarantine barns for European imports are being readied, with specific requests followed, including straw or wood shavings for the guests. Marigolds are being planted, bathrooms cleaned and handrails polished. Purple, white and yellow bunting is being hung on Santa Anita's railings to give the event a World Series-type atmosphere.
"I don't think there's a more beautiful setting," said Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of Oak Tree.
One target audience is the sports fan who wants to be a part of a world championship event, said Allen Gutterman, vice president of marketing for Santa Anita. And bettors are being wooed and welcomed.
"We want the guy who loves to bet to come here and not be frightened by the prices," Chillingworth said.
There will be 14 races and purses totaling $25.5 million. Friday's program has six races starting with the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon, followed by five consecutive races featuring female horses. On Saturday, there will be eight Breeders' Cup races, culminating with the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic. A pick six featuring only Breeders' Cup races will be available each day.
Parking is $10 and programs $5. Patrons can walk around the infield with their general-admission tickets. However, there will be tighter requirements to enter the saddling area after complaints last year that views were obstructed because of too many people in the paddock.
One of the most important parts of last year's event at Santa Anita was the absence of any serious horse injuries. Safety is a priority considering that Santa Anita has the Pro-Ride surface, and synthetic surfaces are under the microscope in California. Entering this weekend, there have been three horse fatalities on the turf, three on the Pro-Ride surface and one from a gate incident during the Oak Tree meeting.
And, of course, there's going to be a big party for owners and media Thursday night at the ESPN Zone in the LA Live entertainment complex next to Staples Center.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Fan's guide to the Breeders' Cup
Where: Santa Anita.
When: Friday and Saturday.
Post times: Friday first post is 11:15 a.m.; Saturday first post is 10:05 a.m. (These are Oak Tree racing meet post times. Breeders' Cup races will follow some Oak Tree races. First Breeders' Cup race is at 12:35 p.m. Friday, and 10:45 a.m. Saturday.)
Parking: Lots open Friday at 8:30 a.m., Saturday at 7:30 a.m. General parking is $10 per vehicle.
Tickets: Can be purchased online at breederscup.com or by calling (626) 254-1300.