Maryland Jockey Club submits formal proposal to host Breeders' Cup at Laurel

The Maryland Jockey Club has submitted a formal 40-page proposal to host a future Breeders’ Cup at Laurel Park, an event industry leaders say could cement Maryland’s resurgence on the national racing scene.

“I think from an industry standpoint, it would put Laurel back on the map,” Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra said. “It would show Maryland is back as a leader in the sport.”

Sinatra said 2020 is likely the earliest year Laurel could host the Breeders’ Cup, the most lucrative two-day event in thoroughbred racing. He said the Laurel bid includes plans for new luxury suites and other renovations that could cost about $50 million. The Breeders’ Cup could draw a crowd of 60,000 to 70,000, which means it might also serve as a test run for a possible Preakness at Laurel Park should the Jockey Club and state officials fail to agree on a renovation plan for Pimlico Race Course.

A Breeders’ Cup spokesman said the event’s chairman, Fred Hertrich III, had no comment on the pending Laurel bid. But in several earlier interviews, Hertrich said officials from six tracks had expressed tentative interest in hosting the event between 2019 and 2022. He said the Breeders’ Cup board hopes to announce sites for all the events in that four-year stretch at the same time.

Sinatra said he expects to hear a verdict on the Laurel bid, which has been backed by Gov. Larry Hogan, before the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

Hertrich has said he was impressed with Del Mar’s performance as a first-time host of the event last fall, a factor that could bode well for Laurel Park.

The Breeders’ Cup is perhaps the most significant event of the year within the racing industry but has rarely captured casual fan interest to the same degree as the Triple Crown series.

Hertrich has said he hopes to change that. “Every major sport has a championship and everything flows to that,” he told the Thoroughbred Daily News. “You have to go the championships and that has to be your hallmark product, in my mind.”

Sinatra said he’s optimistic the event would draw a broader audience in Maryland, even if most of the profits would come from buyers of premium seats.

“The thing you see with fans in this market is they support their teams and their events,” Sinatra said. “There’s a lot of Maryland pride.”

In addition to the Breeders’ Cup bid, Sinatra said he’s working to build a revived D.C. International Stakes into a major turf race for Laurel’s fall schedule.

The original D.C. International was run from 1952 to 1994 and at its peak was regarded as one of the most prestigious turf races in the world.

Sinatra’s boss, Stronach Group chief operating officer Tim Ritvo, told BloodHorse he’s considering a turf race at Laurel based on the same model as the Pegasus World Cup, the $16 million stakes that will be run Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The purse for the Pegasus Cup is largely generated by stakeholders, who pay $1 million each for the right to enter a horse.

Sinatra said the revived D.C. International could operate on a similar buy-in model as early as 2019, though he said Ritvo might add a twist by tying each entry to a different country. He added that the projected September run date could establish the race as a key prep for the Breeders’ Cup in November.

For 2018, Sinatra said he plans to run the D.C. International as a $200,000 or $250,000 stakes race with potential purse bumps for each international horse that enters the field.

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