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Breeders' Cup under way at Santa Anita

November 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The Breeders' Cup is one of the premier events in horse racing. At one time, baseball and horse racing were the most popular sports in America. However, times are changing, and not necessarily for the better. At Santa Anita Park, the stands are brimming, the programs are selling and the horses are chomping at the bit. The Breeders' Cup World Championship is back this year, shining a bright light on the troubled racetrack.

"It's 14 races over two days," said Greg Avioli, president of the Breeders' Cup. "Forty of the best horses in the world, running for over $25 million in prize money."

The purses may be getting larger, but the crowds are not. The fear is that unless racetracks get more people in the stands, horseracing may become a dying breed.

"It's clearly not the same dominant sport it was like in 1950, when it was, you know, horse racing and baseball were the one-two sports in America," said Avioli.

Avioli says the key to returning the sport to prominence is to tap into technology, allowing more people to bet from the comfort of their homes or anywhere.

"We are a perfect sport for the Internet," said Avioli. "If you think about it, two minutes of video, high-definition video. If you can watch the race on your mobile phone I think the technologies out there are the future of the sport."

"We're cannibalizing our on-track business," said Santa Anita Park Spokesman Mike Willman.

And Willman will tell you in-home wagering is killing racetracks. Attendance is down and the company that owns Santa Anita Park had to file for bankruptcy protection earlier this year. He says the best route to saving the sport is one that puts more people in these seats.

"The way to develop solid fans is to get them to the venue," said Willman. "You see the magnificent of the thoroughbred, the athleticism of the jockeys, and you just don't get that off the computer."

Hosting the Breeders' Cup is one way to pack the seats. Willman says more that 80,000 people are expected to attend the races this weekend. But even racing fans see a growing problem.

"It is dying slowly," said Melissa Jordan, a fan of horseracing. "There's not as much interest anymore."

"I hope it never goes bad because it's great entertainment, a great pastime," said Albert Mazman, another horseracing fan.

A great pastime that's looking more and more like a long shot these days.


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