Southern Agenda

Breeders’ Cup Returns to the Bluegrass

Illustration: Tim Bower

In 1982, Lexington horseman John Gaines proposed a season-ending event to bring together the world’s top Thoroughbreds for a day of championship racing. “Just like the NFL has its Super Bowl and Major League Baseball has the World Series, our founders believed that our sport needed a championship of its own,” says Breeders’ Cup CEO Drew Fleming. The first Breeders’ Cup World Championships took place in 1984 at California’s Hollywood Park, and nowadays the last race of the weekend—the Breeders’ Cup Classic—is considered a fourth leg of the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing after the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. Lexington didn’t host its first Breeders’ Cup until 2015, the year Triple Crown winner American Pharoah went wire to wire in the Classic and captured the elusive Grand Slam. The event again ran at Lexington’s Keeneland Race Course in 2020 but without spectators due to the pandemic. The Breeders’ Cup returns to Keeneland November 4 and 5, this time with fans in attendance and a concurrent festival highlighting Lexington’s foundational role in the sport. “Central Kentucky is the home of Thoroughbred racing, and we want to showcase that to the world,” Fleming says. “It’s also a great excuse to dress up, pour a glass of Champagne, and enjoy a spectacular week of the equestrian lifestyle.”