The Breeders' Cup World Championships is an annual series of Grade I Thoroughbred horse races, operated by Breeders' Cup Limited, a company formed in 1982. From its inception in 1984 through 2006, it was a single-day event; starting in 2007, it expanded to two days. All sites have been in the United States, except in 1996, when the races were at the Woodbine Racetrack in Canada.
The attendance at the Breeders' Cup varies, depending mainly on the capacity of the host track. Santa Anita Park set the highest two-day attendance figure of 118,484 in 2016. The lowest two-day attendance was 69,584 in 2007 at Monmouth Park. The attendance typically only trails the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Oaks (and in some years, the Belmont Stakes); for more information see American thoroughbred racing top attended events.
With the addition of three races for 2008, a total of $25.5 million was awarded over the two days, up from $23 million in 2007. With the subsequent removal of two races, the purses for the remaining thirteen races totaled $24.5 million in 2014, plus awards for foal and stallion nominators. Prior to the 2016 running, the total purses were raised from $26 million to $28 million. The purse of the Classic was raised from $5 million to $6 million, and the purse of the Longines Turf was increased from $3 million to $4 million. In 2018, total prizes and awards were increased to over $30 million after another race, the Juvenile Turf Sprint, was added and the purse for the Sprint was increased to $2 million.
Each Breeders' Cup race presents four Breeders' Cup trophies to the connections of the winner and a garland of flowers draped over the withers of the winning horse. Many Breeders' Cup winners will go on to win the Eclipse Award in their respective division. For example, of the eleven flat racehorse categories, seven of the Eclipse winners in 2015 had also won a Breeders' Cup race, while three others were in the money.
In the 2015 listing of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), three Breeders' Cup races are ranked among the top Grade 1 races in the world: the Classic (4th), the Turf (10th) and the Mile (12th). The Distaff is ranked second among the top Grade 1 races for fillies and mares.
|Classic (top 3 finishers), (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021) / Distaff (top 3) / Turf (top 3) / Filly & Mare Turf (top 3) / Mile (top 3) / Dirt Mile (top 3) / Juvenile (top 3) / Juvenile Turf (top 3) / Juvenile Turf Sprint (top 3) / Juvenile Fillies (top 3) / Juvenile Fillies Turf (top 3) / Sprint (top 3) / Filly & Mare Sprint (top 3) / Turf Sprint (top 3) / Marathon (top 3) / Juvenile Sprint / Grand National Hurdle Stakes†|
|†Race no longer part of Breeders' Cup · §Race no longer run.|
|1984–2004 / 2005 / 2006 / 2007 / 2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020 / 2021|
|2007–2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020 / 2021|
|Broadcasters / 2002 Breeders' Cup betting scandal / Trophies / Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing / Grand Slam of Grass|
In 1982 a group of prominent thoroughbred breeders from central Kentucky, led by the visionary John Gaines, hatched a plan. Their idea was to create a year-end, culminating championship for their sport. An event where horses from across the world could meet to settle the age old question, who is the best. An event that celebrated the best of horse racing. Put it on a national platform and helped to build the market for racing and breeding. Their vision - The Breeders' Cup.
Betting on horses is as old as the sport itself and betting on the Breeders’ Cup in particular is becoming as popular as wagering on the Triple Crown.
The Early Years
When the Breeders’ Cup began back in 1984, the handle at Hollywood Park was reported as $19.4million, the day Wild Again won the first ever Classic. Back then the only possible way to play was to be at the California track or to be in a legal off-track betting location.
Despite much of the horse racing public not fully understanding the Breeders’ Cup at first, they soon got to grips with it and became encapsulated. The handle grew steadily as the began to spread, the handle growing from $28.3million at Aqueduct in 1985 to $57.5million at Gulfstream in 1989.
Things had settled as we hit the 90’s, the handle at Belmont Park being $56.7million but when the roadshow moved on to Churchill Downs in 1991 things exploded. The amount bet at the meet had now jumped to over $70.5million as people truly got the grips with the idea of betting on horses from all around the country as well as Europe and beyond.
Pros Learning to Handicap the Championships
Up to this point, most horseplayers had been used to betting on horses running within their own state or challenging for the now very well-established Triple Crown races. Betting on the Breeders’ Cup though is very different than betting on the Kentucky Derby for instance, as handicappers are given the task of checking out top contenders for races ranging from six furlongs to 1½ miles and of all ages.
The Championships began to present a host of different angles for bettors to look at, given that as a year-end meet a lot of horses show different form to what they did in the spring. A player looking to bet the bet the Preakness Stakes for example is looking for a speedy horse who has been showing great form since around March, but it’s highly unlikely the same horse will end up being one of the top Breeders’ Cup contenders in say, the Classic.
The Rise and Rise of Wagering at the Breeders’ Cup
The Breeders’ Cup had made a big impression on the wagering community from its inception until the mid-90’s, but it had nowhere near reached its peak that’s for sure. In ’97 at Hollywood Park, favorites won FIVE of the 7 Championship races meaning many happy bettors. The following year, the previous success of the betting community and the biggest single day Breeders’ Cup crowd of over 80,000 at Churchill Downs meant the handle jumped significantly to $91.3million, topping $100million for the first time the following season at Gulfstream which debuted a new 8-race card.
The handle, along with the global popularity of the Championships, grew steadily. In the UK, there were no areas where online betting was illegal or restricted and after the advent of betting exchange Betfair in 2000, interest in the Breeders’ Cup form overseas was reaching new heights.
The handle continued to rise steadily as Santa Anita, Lone Star Park and Belmont all did their bit in the early part of the millennium with every year being a little different. The Championships moving from track to track of course means that handicappers are kept on their toes.
Those who bet the Belmont Stakes will tell you that it takes a certain type to win around the Big Sandy, something that bettors had to factor in when the New York track hosted in 2005 but it was the following year that saw another key moment in the history of this event.
In 2006 at Churchill Downs, purses suddenly jumped from $14million to $20million and the handle grew significantly with it as yet again the Breeders’ Cup took another jump forward. One year later we had the first two-day meet at Monmouth Park and despite the financial crash, the end of the decade saw handles rising continuously as the Championships’ confirmed their place worldwide as one of the biggest betting events in the world of horse racing alongside the Melbourne Cup, the Grand National and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Modern Betting at the Breeders’ Cup
Even after all these years you can still come to the track, walk up to the teller and simply vocalize your bet. Things have sure moved on off the track though. Legal online betting is a huge contributor to the sport and in 2019, more money than ever before was bet on the internet on these Championships. TVG’s Breeders’ Cup pages will have information on contenders, odds, history and so much more making them they key destination for those looking to handicap and bet on the Breeders’ Cup.