- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 2, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Breeders’ Cup has spent the last 27 years hopscotching across the continent.

It might be time to settle down.

The series is considering putting together a rotation of tracks to host racing’s Super Bowl, and there’s even a possibility of giving the event a permanent home.

The Breeders’ Cup makes its seventh visit to Churchill Downs this weekend and will return in 2011, thanks in part to some generous tax benefits state legislators passed to keep the home of the Kentucky Derby a frequent stop for the event.

“This is the Mecca,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

And one of the few places that can handle an undertaking the size of the Breeders’ Cup. The track has six of the top seven single-day attendance marks in Breeders’ Cup history as well as the facilities to take on the daunting task of housing over 160 of the world’s top horses.

“They don’t have to do a lot,” Lukas said. “You don’t see a lot of portable bleachers and people making stupid decisions on what we should be doing or where to go. It goes a lot smoother here.”

Lukas acknowledges he may have a little bias. He’s based at Churchill Downs, though he’s collected his record 18 Breeders’ Cup wins at seven different tracks.

The series has visited 11 tracks since its inception in 1984, running everywhere from Canada to Florida to California.

The goal of the Breeders’ Cup is to promote the sport. While it has worked — organizers are expecting record ticket revenues this weekend with superstar mare Zenyatta trying to make it a perfect 20-0 — after a quarter century Breeders’ Cup CEO Greg Avioli says it may be time for a change.

Having a permanent host would help create certain traditions, and while Avioli acknowledges it may lead to apathy from the locals, he’s not particularly worried about it.

“Whatever you might lose in the local market, you would hope to gain people from the outside market coming in because they know where you’re going to be every year,” he said. “The answer is you don’t really know but I think those factors might balance themselves out.”

California-based trainer John Sadler is all for a permanent site for the Breeders’ Cup, so long as he can sleep in his bed at night.

Sadler’s concerns aren’t so much the travel as the weather, which can be spotty at best in Kentucky in early November.

“You would hope that the big day wouldn’t be horribly wet because you would like to see championship races on fast tracks rather than wet tracks,” said Sadler, who will saddle three horses this weekend.

Sadler pointed to long shot Mine That Bird’s historic upset on an off track in the Derby in 2009 as proof that weather can wreak havoc on form and produce winners based on something other than pure talent.

“You get some results here like Mine That Bird that just love the slop on any given day, and we just think it’s better where the weather is going to be good,” he said.

It might not be great this weekend. There’s a chance for showers with highs in the 40s on Friday, with the temperature hovering in the 50s on Saturday, numbers that are likely to dip when the Classic goes off under the lights at 6:45 p.m.

Compare that to Santa Anita, where it’ll likely be 75 and sunny both days.

Not that it will matter on Saturday night as Zenyatta chases history. Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery says there’s a buzz around the Breeders’ Cup whenever it visits the track, and the pairing of the sport’s biggest days and it’s most famous venue can make for a compelling event.

“Against the backdrop of the spires, I think it helps that PR-message of getting that image out around the world that, ‘Hey, something special is going on in racing,” Flanery said.

There’s no rush to make any sort of long-term decision, though Avioli said four tracks — Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Santa Anita and Delmar — are under consideration for the 2012 Breeders’ Cup. It’s likely any sort of set rotation would come out of those four.

“If Delmar were to get through their state issues, licensing issues and make the necessary changes, they could be in it,” Avioli said.

Though Avioli says there’s really nothing off the table, the series has no plans to return to a track with synthetic surfaces. While the 2008 and 2009 events were catastrophe-free on the synthetic surface at Santa Anita, it also scared away some American trainers who aren’t exactly fans of the mixture of sand and rubber.

This is the first year, for example, that the Dirt Mile will actually be run on dirt. That’s not a bad thing.

“I think if it’s in America and I think considering what our program is I think turf and dirty is probably what I would like to see personally, but that doesn’t suit everybody I’m sure,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “That would be my preference.”

But it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be the same turf and dirt every year.

“I think it’s great to have it at Churchill Downs, but I don’t think we should be locked in here,” Mott added. “I think it’s great to have it at Belmont Park, but there are advantages and disadvantages at both places for individual horses. I do think it should be moved around the country.”


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