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Features - LIFESTYLE

The Breeders' Cup is horse racing's championships. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)

America became enraptured by one of the country’s oldest and most thrilling sports as California Chrome’s quest to become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978 elevated the sport into mainstream discussion. Coverage spanned from morning news programs to sports talk radio and into late night television talk shows and from traditional outlets to digital platforms and social media channels.

THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN

The great sport of horse racing, and in particular the quest for the Triple Crown, was discussed and debated and positioned and re-positioned and, most importantly, celebrated and embraced. New and casual fans were introduced to the drama, personalities, thrills and excitement that can only be found at the racetrack.

CALIFORNIA CHROME TATTOO

Chromie -Is -My -Homie -Tattoo

Chromie became your homie and for many a day at the races became an eye-opener and a game-changer. As TIME magazine scribe Joel Stein came to witness firsthand:

“Here’s what I came to love about horse racing: The pace. It’s two minutes of real excitement, with people literally jockeying for position and the eventual winners confusingly in the middle until the very end. But even better are the expanses of time between the races. People have the opportunity to talk about the horses and patiently explain complicated math to me that they think will help me with my betting because I keep nodding ‘yes’ as if I understand. Also, it leaves plenty of time to get to the concessions. Sure, people chat during other sports, but when you do, you risk missing action. A day at the races is just that: a long, social event punctuated by sports. It’s civilized. People wear hats. And have cocktails. And allow children to place small wagers they feel very strongly about. I can see why people have been doing this for a while.”

Like Joel, you learned that a day at the races offers many compelling touch points. It’s affordable. Heck, it’s a bargain when compared with other sports and entertainment options. It’s also exciting and thrilling and fun.

RACING IS A SOCIAL EVENT

Hero _08

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

It’s also social and communal, and offers the experience junkie a complete and comprehensive must-share participatory experience, whether with friends, family or fellow racing fans. You gamble. You jump, scream, yell and celebrate. You win some. You lose some. You dress up or dress down and are welcomed either way. Your drink cocktails, fine wine, water or champagne and dine on culinary treats that span the foodie spectrum. You aren’t restricted to your seat for the entire experience like at other sporting events, but rather move around the racetrack and meet diverse people of all ages and ethnicities at the track. You share tips, hunches and opinions – whether on the horses, jockeys, food or politics.

Whether you stand at the rail, sit at the apron, glide through the grandstand or lean over the paddock, you can get up close with the star athletes – the Thoroughbreds. You can hear them neigh and see the sweat as it forms on their coats while mere steps away from being able to reach out and touch them. You rub elbows with celebrities, star athletes, actors, and musicians mingling among the crowd. If you’re really lucky, you will be the beneficiary of their success at the betting window.

WES WELKER AT 2014 KENTUCKY DERBY

Welker

The 2014 Triple Crown attendance defied a tattered, old-and-misguided stereotype that the sport of horse racing is dying. Nothing could be further from the truth. Didn’t your parents teach you not to believe everything you read or hear? To question authority when it seemingly offers opinions ungrounded in fact?

When we take a closer look at the numbers, we quickly realize that a sleeping giant among sports and entertainment options has been awakened. A younger, tech-savvy, hopeful and lifestyle-focused generation has discovered that horse racing is cool, fun and engaging.

People flocked to horse racing’s biggest days this Triple Crown season. A crowd of 164,906 attended the Kentucky Derby, 123,469 showed up at the Preakness and 102,199 jammed Belmont on June 7. I know a few sports that would kill for crowds like that at their big events. Did you know that combined, the 2014 Triple Crown events produced a TV audience of 45.5 million viewers?

But there’s more. Other big event race days which preceded the Triple Crown also attracted big audiences. The April 5 Santa Anita Derby drew 35,241 West Coast fans to Santa Anita Park. One week later, iconic Keeneland welcomed 39,722 fans for its signature Triple Crown prep race, the Blue Grass Stakes. Big race day events attract big crowds, whether in California, Illinois, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland or New York. 

BIG RACING AND BIG CROWDS GO HAND-IN-HAND

So now the nation and the sport turn the focus from 3-year-old Thoroughbreds and the Triple Crown to horse racing’s "second season". The quest now becomes the Road to the Breeders Cup, the most lucrative sporting event held on American soil. You didn’t realize there was a second season of horse racing? Well, let us explain.

The second season schedule offers an array of big event days spanning from summer into fall and from coast to coast. Major races and events are conducted at travel-destination racetracks and cities. Racehorses you’ve grown to known and love – like California Chrome, Tonalist, Commanding Curve, Wicked Strong and Danza as well as champions like Palace Malice, Will Take Charge, Shared Belief, Wise Dan and more – will be featured at racetrack near you during racing’s second season. 

Del Mar, affectionately known as the "playground to the stars" since being founded by Bing Crosby in 1937, offers a unique, West Coast summer racing experience plus fall racing this year for the first time in its storied history.

Likewise, from late July through Labor Day many of the sport’s top owners, trainers, jockeys and horses gather in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., along with hundreds of thousands of passionate fans for the East Coast’s premier Thoroughbred race meet. Saratoga Race Course, named one of the world’s top 10 venues of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, hosts the 40-day meet featuring top-class racing and a unique atmosphere. As legendary sports and turf writer Joe Palmer once noted: 

“Saratoga represents a reaffirmation of racing as enjoyment, of the original forces which first called it into being. You come away feeling that, well, there is going to be a good deal of concrete and gravel in your horoscope for a goodish while, but afterward there will be Saratoga again, with its shaded paddocks. ... I rather think that the charm of Saratoga is that it represents to those to whom racing is a way of life, something to which they may at need return. It is, of course, the oldest track in America, and its ways are old-fashioned ways. After 11 months of new-fashioned ways, it is as restful as old slippers, as quiet as real joy.”

RACING AT ARLINGTON

Arlington

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Not to be outdone, summer racing thrives on the shores of New Jersey at Monmouth Park and in the heartland of America at Arlington International Racecourse, where many of the world’s finest horses descend in mid-August for an unparalleled Festival of Racing.

Thankfully many of these big racing events and days will be televised by mainstream outlets like NBC Sports, NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports 1 for those of you unable to attend and witness in person. 

Here are a few to mark on your calendar and to plan a visit or a viewing party at home:

June 28 – The Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita Park (Arcadia, Calif.) televised on NBC Sports Network

July 17 – Opening Day at Del Mar (Del Mar, Calif.)

July 18 – Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.)

July 20 -  Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar and Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Race Course on Fox Sports 1

July 27 – Haskell Invitatuional Stakes at Monmouth Park (Oceanport, N.J.) on NBC Sports

August 2 – Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Race Course on NBC Sports

August 10 – Saratoga Special Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Fox Sports 1

Aug 16 – Arlington Million Stakes at Arlington International Racecourse (Arlington Heights, Ill.)

August 17 – Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Fox Sports 1

August  23 – Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on NBC Sports

August 24 – Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar on NBC Sports Network

August 30 – Woodward/Forego Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on NBC Sports Network

September 14 – Woodbine Mile at Woodbine Racetrack (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) on Fox Sports 1

September 27 – Super Saturday, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup, at Belmont Park (Elmont, N.Y.)  on NBC Sports Network

September 27—Super Saturday, including the Awesome Again Stakes, at Santa Anita Park

Oct 4 – Keeneland Fall Stars Saturday at Keeneland Race Course (Lexington, Ky.) on NBC Sports Network

Oct 5 – Spinster and Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland Race Course on NBC Sports

Oct 31-Nov 1 – Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network

So if you’re a new or casual fan who was introduced to the great sport of Thoroughbred racing this season, we welcome you. You might be asking yourself: What’s the Breeders’ Cup and is there anything as big as the Triple Crown events? 

Lucky for you, the answer is a definitive ‘yes.’

Many, in fact, call the Breeders’ Cup the Super Bowl of Thoroughbred racing. GearPatrol.com produced this killer video which captures the essence of the two-day, $26-million extravaganza that attracts the best horses, trainers, and jockeys from across the globe. It has also become the unofficial culmination of the Thoroughbred-racing season, often with the Breeders’ Cup Classic being the deciding factor in the voting for Horse of the Year.

THE SUPER BOWL OF HORSE RACING

We look forward to seeing you at the races this summer and fall. And if you want a horse racing experience that will truly blow you away, order your tickets for the Super Bowl of horse racing here.

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