Saratoga Race Course may be closed for the season, but one of Thoroughbred racing’s biggest days is just around the bend. Running this Friday, November 1 through Saturday, November 2 is the annual Breeders’ Cup World Championships, a series of 14 races, almost all of them Grade 1 stakes, amounting to more than $30 million in purses and awards, which this year will be held at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA (each year a different racecourse hosts the event). The 2019 Breeders’ Cup will not only feature some of the toughest competitors in the horse racing world, but will also welcome in impressive crowds of fans, including a number of celebrities. Of course, there will also be great non-racing entertainment at Santa Anita all weekend long, along with top-shelf culinary offerings and more than a few chances to wear a fancy hat.
Just how big a deal is Breeders’ Cup weekend? Big. Since 1984, the world’s top Thoroughbreds have faced off against one another there. Expanded into a two-day event in 2007, the Breeders’ Cup is also one of the richest single, horse racing events in the world (surpassed by only a handful of racing tournaments), and this year’s cup is sure to be just as impressive. The Cup’s first day will feature a full day of racing dedicated to juvenile racehorses (under three years of age), with four Grade 1 races and one Grade 2 race. The gems of Friday’s card are a pair of $2 million races: the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies. Day 2 includes a staggering nine Grade 1 stakes (all with a purse of $1 million or greater), including the big three: the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf and the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (often referred to simply as “The Classic”). (For a full list of the races and entries, click here.)
For those local fans pining for the racing-packed days at this past summer’s Saratoga meet, the two-day Breeders’ Cup card will evoke some fond memories. “It’s going to be a pretty spectacular [lineup], including a lot of Saratoga winners,” says Peter Rotondo, the Breeders’ Cup’s vice president of media and entertainment, who also happens to be a recent Saratoga Springs transplant. Among those horses that dominated at Saratoga, who will be appearing in Breeders’ Cup races this weekend, will be McKinzie, winner of the 2019 Whitney Stakes; and Code of Honor, winner of the 2019 Travers Stakes, both of whom will both competing in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Also racing will be Midnight Bisou, winner of the 2019 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga, who is favored to win the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. “It’s literally a Who’s-Who of Saratoga stakes winners battling it out in California,” says Rotondo.
If you’re lucky enough to be jetting off to Santa Anita this weekend, there will be a lot to do besides watching world-class racing. For instance, if you’re a foodie, you’ve come to the right place. There will be a celebrated guest chef’s program, with some of New York City’s and Los Angeles’ hottest restaurants represented at the track, including LA’s Pizzeria Mozza and Jon & Vinny’s, as well as Manhattan’s 21 Club. The latter designed the Breeders’ Cup’s first-ever official cocktails. “The Kentucky Derby has mint juleps so, after 36 years, we said it’s time to have [our own] official cocktail,” says Rotondo. “So we made two!” The two beverages? The Torrie Cup (bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange juice and lemonade) and The Garland (vodka and triple sec with green tea and fresh lemon juice).
And if you’re a celebrity-watcher…well, you’ll be in good company. One of Rotondo’s responsibilities is managing the Breeders’ Cup’s celebrity ambassador program. “We have this group of celebs and athletes that love horse racing or even just horses,” says Rotondo. “When they’re available, they come out to the Cup.” That list of big-wig regulars that make cameos on Breeders’ Cup weekend includes Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Torre; Broadway actress Laura Bell Bundy (Hairspray, Legally Blonde); Hollywood screen legend Bo Derek; celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who has a horse running in the Breeders’ Cup this year; a slew of Dodgers players, including young hurler Walker Buehler; and award-winning actress Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Game).
Even if you can’t make it to Santa Anita this weekend, don’t worry about it too much: Rotondo says that this year’s Breeders’ Cup is going to be a special one. Those aforementioned Saratoga winners? “They have a very good shot [to win] this year,” he says.