Lexington’s first Breeders’ Cup was a big success; how could the next one be even better?

November 7, 2015
At the Breeders' Cup. Photo by Tom Eblen

At the Breeders’ Cup. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Kip Cornett said he and his wife were at an airport in June when he read on his cellphone a column by Barry Weisbord, president and co-publisher of Thoroughbred Daily News.

Weisbord wrote that he opposed a decision by his fellow Breeders’ Cup board members to bring Thoroughbred racing’s annual world championship here. He thought Keeneland and Lexington were simply too small to handle it.

After he finished reading, Cornett, president of Lexington’s Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions, called Weisbord. “Just watch us,” he said.

Weisbord published a follow-up column last Wednesday.

“I have three words to say: I was wrong,” wrote Weisbord, who resigned from the Breeders’ Cup board last summer. “Oh, wait… three more: It was spectacular. In fact, I couldn’t be more impressed with how Keene land, the Breeders’ Cup and Lexington handled the event.”

After lavishing praise on everything about last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup in Lexington, Weisbord ended his column with this: “So… when are we going back?”

The consensus seems to be that Lexington hit a home run last weekend. That doesn’t mean everything went perfectly. Mistakes were made and lessons were learned for next time. But most people assume there will be a next time.

With the exception of a messy logistical screw-up Friday at the Maker’s Mark Bourbon Lounge, Keeneland’s performance was nearly flawless, from the races themselves to traffic management and customer service.

Nobody sweats the small stuff better than Keeneland. For example, by the end of each Kentucky Derby, patrons at Churchill Downs in Louisville are wading through a sea of trash. But throughout each day of Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland’s army of green-uniformed employees quietly walked around cleaning up. “Are you finished with your plate, Sir?”

Even though there were a record 50,155 people on the grounds Saturday and 44,947 Friday, it felt less crowded than a Bluegrass Stakes Day. One reason was that Keeneland spent $5 million adding a lot of temporary seating and hospitality space.

Even though track attendance was down 3,217 from last year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, ticket revenue more than doubled because of the demand for high-end accommodations at Keeneland. On-track handle was $20,611,114, up slightly from last year.

For the outside world watching Breeders’ Cup on television, NBC Sports’ gorgeous telecast amounted to a two-hour commercial for Lexington.

“I’m incredibly pleased,” VisitLex President Mary Quinn Ramer said. “I heard from a lot of people that they were blown away by our hospitality. I feel like we have made lifelong friends as a result of this event.”

Some downtown restaurants, bars and food trucks grumbled that they had hoped to do better than they did, but others who planned well were quite pleased.

“We had a great experience,” said Ben Self of West Sixth Brewery, which released a Breeders’ Cup Brown ale and hosted a beer dinner and “Beers and Bets” event.

Deborah Long, who owns Dudley’s on Short, hosted a private event Friday that filled her restaurant. She offered a price fixe menu Saturday night.

“We were very pleased,” Long said. “I think the city did a great job. Keeneland did a spectacular job. From our perspective, I don’t see how it could have been improved.”

Long said her business was slow Monday and Tuesday nights. Rainy weather was partly to blame, she thinks, but a lot of the reason may have been that Breeders’ Cup visitors started arriving later than many people assumed.

Cornett, who chaired the Breeders’ Cup Festival, agrees. They may have planned too many events to try to entertain visitors and involve Lexington residents in Breeders’ Cup. After all, the week also included Halloween and the Wildcats’ football game with Tennessee.

“We maybe over-prepared by about 30 percent,” he said. “It wasn’t as needed as we thought it would be.”

Still, many of those events were well-attended, such as the Feeders’ Cup food truck event, which sold out its 3,000 tickets, and three Lyric Theatre performances of Frank X Walker’s play about the great black jockey Isaac Murphy.

Cornett said organizers also could have spent less time recruiting private homes for visitors, some of which went unused. Many visitors who came on private jets spent less time in Lexington than expected. Others found their own accommodations through Airbnb.com.

As with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010, the Breeders’ Cup showed that Lexington can host a big international event with aplomb.

“There are a lot of things everyone learned that will make it easier the next time around,” Cornett said. “But everyone in Lexington should be proud of what they did. We did everything we could to show we’re a world-class city, and it worked.”


Faces at the races: photos from Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup

October 31, 2015

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Brothers’ Mongolian Saturday wins colorfully at Breeders’ Cup

October 31, 2015
Dressed in traditional costume, brothers Tserenjigmed Dagvadorj, left, CEO of the Mongolian conglomerate Max Group, and his brother, horse trainer Ganbaatar Dagvadorj were there to root for their horse Mongolian Saturday in the Breeders Cup at Keeneland on Saturday. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Dressed in traditional costume, brothers Tserenjigmed Dagvadorj, left, CEO of the Mongolian conglomerate Max Group, and his brother, horse trainer Ganbaatar Dagvadorj were there to root for their horse Mongolian Saturday in the Breeders Cup at Keeneland on Saturday. Photos by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The most colorfully dressed owner and trainer at Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup were brothers Tserenjigmed and Ganbaatar Dagvadorj, whose horse Mongolian Saturday won the Turf Sprint.

Wearing traditional Mongolian dress, they and their party of about 20 people from Mongolia attracted a lot of attention in the grandstands.  The brothers run Max Group, a major business conglomerate in Mongolia. Ganbaatar Dagvadorj also is a successful horse trainer in a nation known for talented horses and riders.

The brothers began trading skins and furs underground in the late 1980s during the last years of Soviet domination, according to Forbes magazine. Now, their company includes supermarkets, fast-food franchises, hotels and construction companies.

Wearing traditional dress, Mongolian wrestler Dambii Ragchaa used a smart phone to videotape a race Saturday at the Breeder's Cup. He was among about 20 people from Mongolia there to root for Mongolian Saturday in the Turf Sprint. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Wearing traditional dress, Mongolian wrestler Dambii Ragchaa used a smart phone to videotape a race Saturday at the Breeder’s Cup. He was among about 20 people from Mongolia there to root for Mongolian Saturday in the Turf Sprint.

 

Dressed in traditional costume, brothers Tserenjigmed Dagvadorj, right, CEO of the Mongolian conglomerate Max Group, and his brother, horse trainer Ganbaatar Dagvadorj were there to root for their horse Mongolian Saturday in the Breeders Cup at Keeneland on Saturday. The gold medallions on Ganbaatar's sash represent gold medals in Mongolian horse races. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Dressed in traditional costume, brothers Tserenjigmed Dagvadorj, right, CEO of the Mongolian conglomerate Max Group, and his brother, horse trainer Ganbaatar Dagvadorj were there to root for their horse Mongolian Saturday.

 


Hitches seem few as Keeneland shines during its first Breeders’ Cup

October 30, 2015
An outrider and police officer exchange glances in the Keeneland paddock before the first race on Breeders' Cup day Friday. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

An outrider and police officer exchange glances in the Keeneland paddock before the first race on Breeders’ Cup day Friday. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Keeneland, which has spent 79 years building an international Thoroughbred sales and racing powerhouse, earned the final jewel in its crown Friday by hosting the 32nd Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

The first of two days of racing came off with few hitches under mostly cloudy skies with temperatures in the 50s.

Breeders’ Cup purple replaced Keeneland green as the color of the day, but bright fall leaves offered some competition.

Keeneland spent $5 million to add temporary buildings and seating for an extra 10,000 spectators, and that kept the track from being uncomfortably crowded during its biggest day of racing ever.

A record number of fans for the first day of a Breeders’ Cup, 44,947, came to the track and to hospitality areas on Keeneland’s grounds. The crowd is expected to be even larger Saturday, when the most prestigious races are scheduled.

Customer service seemed to be at Keeneland’s usual high level, with one big exception: A reserved-seating mixup at the Maker’s Mark Lounge left some early arrivals angry when Kentucky state troopers were brought in to ask them to move.

Traffic, parking and shuttle systems operated smoothly for the most part.

“Honestly, it was easier than a normal day at Keeneland,” said Nyoka Hawkins of Lexington. “I think they’ve done a fabulous job. I bought a parking pass, and we just drove right in. It was shocking.”

Lexington received high marks from out-of-town visitors, said VisitLex president Mary Quinn Ramer. They especially enjoyed being able to get close to famous horses and tour farms while they were here. “Our four-legged celebrities are being well-adored this week,” she said.

Ramer said people from 16 nations attended the media party Thursday night. From the grandstand seat where she was hosting Garden & Gun magazine publisher Nancy Carmody, dozens of private jets could be seen parked across Versailles Road on the Blue Grass Airport tarmac.

“I’ve talked to horsemen and horsewomen from all over the world, and they’ve said our hospitality has been second to none,” Ramer said. “It’s a really big deal for Lexington to host this global audience, and we seem to be right good at it.”

Alex Lloyd-Baker, an insurance executive from London, England, agreed. He flew in Thursday from Santiago, Chile, and was staying with Lexington friends Tony and Debbie Chamblin. He planned to leave Sunday to fly to Australia for the Melbourne Cup, that nation’s biggest race.

“I’m having a wonderful time here,” said Lloyd-Baker, who attended the 2014 Kentucky Derby but had never seen a race at Keeneland. “This is just fantastic. It’s a beautiful race course, everyone is so friendly, and it’s the top quality of racing in the world.”

Several floors below Lloyd-Baker’s table overlooking the paddock, along the track rail in the general admission section, Rob Krebs of Berkeley, Calif., and Peter Valencic of Cleveland sat on a bench that they arrived early to snag.

The old high school buddies had decided a little more than a week ago to come to the Breeders’ Cup, and they easily found $100 general admission tickets online.

“Keeneland is a great place; they know how to do it right,” Valencic said. “It’s great they’re finally getting to host the Breeders’ Cup.”

Valencic said he was at the 1973 Kentucky Derby when Secretariat won the first leg of his Triple Crown. He and his friend were eager to see American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, run in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Martha and Tony Rezeli of Saylorsburg, Pa., had been to Keeneland before and were excited to return for the biggest weekend in its history.

“We just got back from Las Vegas and said, ‘Let’s go to Breeders’ Cup!” she said. “We didn’t do so well there, so we’re hoping to do better here.”

Nick Nicholson, retired Keeneland president, said he was impressed by how things went, even though he had nothing to do with it. “They worked together so well with the Breeders’ Cup, and the winner is the fans,” Nicholson said. “I’m proud of us.”

 

Martha and Tony Rezeli of Saylorsburg, Pa., checked out the program Friday at Keeneland, where they were attending their first Breeders' Cup. "We just got back from Las Vegas and said, 'Let's go to Breeders' Cup!" she said. "We didn't do so well there, so maybe we'll do better here." Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Martha and Tony Rezeli of Saylorsburg, Pa., checked out the program Friday at Keeneland, where they were attending their first Breeders’ Cup. “We just got back from Las Vegas and said, ‘Let’s go to Breeders’ Cup!” she said. “We didn’t do so well there, so maybe we’ll do better here.” 

Margalee Conlee of Lexington, left, takes a selfie of her and Melissa Turner of Prestonsburg at Keeneland on Friday during the first day of Breeders' Cup. The two are hat designers. Their business is called Headturners. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Margalee Conlee of Lexington, left, takes a selfie of her and Melissa Turner of Prestonsburg at Keeneland on Friday during the first day of Breeders’ Cup. The two are hat designers. Their business is called Headturners. 

 

 


Crowds begin pouring into Keeneland for Breeders’ Cup

October 30, 2015
As soon as Keeneland's gates opened Friday morning, fans began posing at the Breeders' Cup statue installed in the paddock for the two-day world championship of Thoroughbred racing. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.comSoo

As soon as Keeneland’s gates opened Friday morning, fans began posing at the Breeders’ Cup statue installed in the paddock for the two-day world championship of Thoroughbred racing. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Keeneland usher Ezra Click of Lexington waited the crowds early Friday morning during the first day of the Breeders' Cup. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Keeneland usher Ezra Click of Lexington waited the crowds early Friday morning during the first day of the Breeders’ Cup. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Rob Krebs, left, of Berkeley, Calif., and Peter Valencia of Cleveland, Ohio, snagged a bench in the general admission section of Keeneland from which to watch the first day of Breeders' Cup. The avid horse players have been friends since high school. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Rob Krebs, left, of Berkeley, Calif., and Peter Valencia of Cleveland, Ohio, snagged a bench in the general admission section of Keeneland from which to watch the first day of Breeders’ Cup. The avid horse players have been friends since high school. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com