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L.A. mayor pushing for Breeders' Cup

Antonio Villaraigosa says horse racing's big event should be staged at Santa Anita every other year.

November 06, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • The Breeder's Cup was held at Santa Anita Racetrack two years ago where Jockey Mike Smith claimed victory.
The Breeder's Cup was held at Santa Anita Racetrack two years ago where… (Fred Greaves / Reuters )

Reporting from Louisville, Ky. — On a sparkling Kentucky fall afternoon, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stood in a Breeders' Cup winner's circle in the shrine of horse racing and didn't pause to proclaim that his metropolis can do better by staging the event routinely at Santa Anita.

It's what politicians do.

Chris Quinn, Santa Anita's vice president of sales and marketing, said that "politically" it might be best not to interrupt negotiating momentum to place the 2013 Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park in New York, but the Santa Anita contingent is nonetheless pushing Breeders' Cup officials to make the Arcadia track the event's home every other year starting next year.

For a second consecutive year, Churchill Downs allowed horse racing's richest two days to thrive.

The Breeders' Cup drew the second-largest two-day crowd in the event's 28-year history, with 105,820 packing Churchill Downs with colorful hats, sharp suits and grand dreams to strike it rich in mammoth pick-six offerings as longshots hit often.

"Coming off last year, a huge year with the greatest interest ever in the Breeders' Cup, these numbers are solid," Breeders' Cup spokesman Jim Gluckson said.

The 2010 event at Churchill Downs was sold on the interest in Zenyatta's bid to win the Breeders' Cup Classic and retire unbeaten.

Zenyatta finished second, but 114,353 swarmed the track that weekend and a record $163,619,784 was wagered at Churchill in those two days.

This year's figure was $155,525,947, a 4.9% decrease, and betting on Breeders' Cup races was down 5.1% from last year.

Strong horse racing is a near guarantee with the Breeders' Cup, which will come to Santa Anita next year after two years in Kentucky.

What the event needs, Villaraigosa said to The Times and Breeders' Cup officials in a private suite meeting Saturday, is an injection of the Hollywood star power cache, California's usually beautiful weather in early November, and the grand boost of major sponsors in town.

"I'd like to see [Santa Anita] as a permanent home," Villaraigosa said.

Villaraigosa said he has had three to four meetings with Breeders' Cup executives during the year.

He was accompanied by Santa Anita executive Greg Avioli and California Horse Racing Board Executive Director Keith Brackpool for Saturday's informal talks.

Breeders' Cup officials are intrigued by the idea of placing the event at Santa Anita on the every-other-year rotation, but they would like the personable Avioli to preside over the talks, keeping Santa Anita czar Frank Stronach's role limited.

"He needs to trust his staff," one Breeders' Cup official said, declining to be identified because there was no authorization to speak publicly on this matter. The official said Stronach's "quixotic" ways are abrasive.

Quinn maintained Santa Anita officials are well liked by Breeders' Cup staff and said the Southland delegation Saturday made it clear "we'd love to be the Breeders' Cup anchor. We believe we have a wave of support."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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