You would be forgiven for thinking that the heir to a pet-food fortune might not have a horse's best interests at heart. Yet, back in 1982, at a lunch engagement at the Kentucky Derby, the esteemed horse breeder and scion to the Gaines Food Company fortune (an early pioneer of dry, all-in-one dogfood), John R Gaines, put forward a proposition. He suggested an annual, wholesome, end-of-season series of races that aimed to raise equestrian sports to the highest level in the United States.
First staged in November 1984, the Breeders' Cup has gone on to occupy a highly regarded close-of-year place in American thoroughbred racing. While not drawing in quite the level of media interest and prestige as Gaines had hoped, it nevertheless attracts the best horses, breeders, and jockeys from across the US as well as from overseas.
After starting as a seven-race daylong event in the early '80s, the Breeders' Cup expanded to a two-day engagement in 2007. In contrast to other horseracing events, but in line with significant sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, it has maintained a peripatetic relationship with its host grounds, hopping from one racecourse to another. This year, the 2019 Breeders' Cup will be staged at its semi-regular West Coast home, the Los Angeles Art Deco thoroughbred race track, Santa Anita Park.
Beginning on 1 November 2019 with Future Stars Friday, the Breeders' Cup will first stage five juvenile races featuring the sport's brightest new prospects. However, it's the Championship Saturday on 2 November that brings in the big stars, crowds, and prizes. These nine races have featured prominent jockeys such as Joel Rosario and Frankie Dettori, as well as thoroughbred animals, including Gun Runner and American Pharoah. That Saturday is also one of the richest days
in racing, with a combined purse of over $22 million, the largest of which is awarded in the $6 Million Breeders' Cup Classic.
Gaines passed away in 2005 and may not have lived to see his event rise to quite the stature he had hoped. In a 1999 interview, he said, "I would like to see the championship day become part of the American psyche like the World Series and the Super Bowl." His slightly more modest ambitions, however, remain a lasting legacy, as he acknowledged, "anyone who likes to see great horses run fast and far loves Breeders' Cup championship day."
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