Breeders’ Cup to Be Held Without Fans, Will Return to Keeneland in 2022

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American Pharoah winning the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, which will host the World Championships without fans in 2020 and welcome back the Breeders’ Cup in 2022. (Eclipse Sportswire)

One of Thoroughbred horse racing’s most prestigious international events is coming back to the Bluegrass in 2022.

Keeneland, set to host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships Nov. 6-7 in Lexington, will again be home to the championship event after an already scheduled 2021 running at Del Mar, it was announced Sept. 12.

The return to Lexington gives those who will miss out this year due to COVID-19 a chance to attend. In a development viewed as almost inevitable due to the ongoing pandemic, Breeders’ Cup confirmed Saturday that the 2020 edition will be conducted without fans on the grounds. On-site attendance will be limited to essential personnel and participants such as owners, horsemen, and jockeys, Breeders’ Cup said.

Breeders’ Cup also announced Saturday that the 2020 event will be run for $31 million in purses and awards, the same amount as in 2019. A $4 million purse increase announced earlier this year has been postponed until 2021.

“While many racing events have reduced purses due to COVID-19 implications, the Breeders’ Cup is committed to maintaining its lucrative purse levels during these challenging times to support the industry and its horsemen,” read the release.

With purses of $6 million and $4 million, the weekend’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic and Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf remain two of the richest races in the world.

“The decision to hold this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships without fans in attendance was not made lightly,” said Drew Fleming, president and CEO of Breeders’ Cup. “However, after many months of careful deliberation, planning, and consultation, it has become abundantly clear that this is the right decision in order to proceed with our event while still protecting the collective health of our community. Despite many major racing events reducing purses significantly, we are proud to be able to maintain 2019 purse levels to support our nominators and horsemen during this challenging year.”

“While the World Championships will look different this year, Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup remain committed to making the event the best it can be,” said Bill Thomason, Keeneland president and CEO. “We are grateful to continue providing a platform for our athletes and horses to showcase their talent, and we are excited for the event to return in 2022, when fans can experience the full spectacle of Breeders’ Cup in the Bluegrass as we originally intended.”

The Breeders’ Cup follows in the footsteps of the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which was ultimately held without fans at Churchill Downs. Tracks across the country have conducted major races without fans in a similar manner due to COVID-19, with the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and Preakness Stakes at the forefront, along with the entire summer meet at Saratoga Race Course.

Those accessing the grounds at Keeneland in November will be subject to strict guidelines and protocols put in place as part of the organization’s comprehensive COVID-19 health and safety plan, details of which will be announced closer to the event.

“This decision was made following close, continuous communications with Gov. Andy Beshear, Keeneland, local and state government and public health officials and independent medical experts to fully assess the conditions under which major sporting events may expect to operate safely in the coming months,” Breeders’ Cup stated in a release.

All 2020 ticket holders will receive a full refund and will also be granted first access to purchase the same or similar tickets for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland.

“While we are disappointed that we will not be joined by our fans on-site this year, our utmost priority is and always will be to conduct the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in the safest way possible,” said Breeders’ Cup board chairman Fred Hertrich III. “We would like to thank Gov. Beshear, state, and local health officials and public health authorities for their leadership, guidance, and insight as we have worked to identify our options and finalize our plans. Lexington’s local community of racing fans, businesses, and members of the Thoroughbred industry are the backbone of our sport, and we believe they deserve a second opportunity, in short order, to experience the event at its full potential. As such, we are proud to award Keeneland the 2022 World Championships and look forward to bringing the Breeders’ Cup back to Lexington in just two years’ time.”

The 2022 edition of the Breeders’ Cup will mark the third time Keeneland has hosted the event since it first welcomed the World Championships in 2015. That year, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah electrified the world by becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Breeders’ Cup is working with its official broadcast partner, NBC Sports, to develop and introduce innovative and enhanced production elements that will enhance the viewing experience for the influx of horse racing fans who will be watching the races from home. The organization is also implementing advanced technologies across its own digital platforms and channels to further engage with fans at home. The event will be broadcast live on NBC, NBCSN,, and the NBC Sports app.

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