Beginner’s Guide to the Breeders’ Cup

Fans take in the surroundings at Keeneland during the 2015 Breeders’ Cup. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships is the biggest event in global horse racing: if the Triple Crown is the equine equivalent of the College Football Playoff National Championship, then the Breeders’ Cup is the Super Bowl. If this is your first time tuning into the Breeders’ Cup, then we have everything you need to know below!

beginner Takeaways

There are 14 Breeders’ Cup World Championship races to determine the best of the best for Thoroughbreds of different ages, sexes, and over different surfaces and distances.

This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held on Nov. 4-5 at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.

Tickets are still available, or you can watch at home on USA Network, NBC, and Peacock.

Be sure to download the Breeders’ Cup apps and follow America’s Best Racing on social media to stay up to date.

Who: The best Thoroughbred racehorses on the planet

The Breeders’ Cup is two days of elite horse racing that attracts the biggest names in the sport from all over the globe. In past years, horses from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela competed in the event. That’s representation from six continents!

Within the U.S., horses nationwide participate in the World Championships: Thoroughbreds hailing from Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia have all run in the Breeders’ Cup.

Fun fact: Outside of the U.S., the country to produce the most Breeders’ Cup winners is Ireland with 38.

What: Horse racing’s World Championships

The Breeders’ Cup is the end game for horse owners and trainers: a win in one of these races can ensure a year-end award, a horse’s increased value when it’s time to breed, and some serious bragging rights. Because of this, there are multiple races for horses depending on age, sex, the distance they like to run as well as whether a horse prefers to run on grass or dirt.

The World Championships take place over two days, and there are 14 races in total. Future Stars Friday focuses on 2-year-old Thoroughbreds and offers the $2 million NetJets Juvenile Fillies, the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint, the $1 million Juvenile Turf, and the $2 million TVG Juvenile.

Saturday’s races are designated for Thoroughbreds 3 years old and older: the day includes the $1 million Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile, the $1 million Turf Sprint, the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint, the $2 million Qatar Racing Sprint, the $2 million FanDuel Mile, the $2 million Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf, the $2 million Longines Distaff, the $4 million Longines Turf, and the $6 million Longines Classic.

Fun fact: The most horses to ever run in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships came in 2018, when 175 Thoroughbreds competed over two days at Churchill Downs.

When: Nov. 4-5

This year, the Breeders’ Cup will take place over two days on Nov. 4-5; the World Championships typically take place over the first weekend of November, which gives Thoroughbreds plenty of time to qualify to run over the course of the spring, summer, and fall.

Fun fact: The first running of the Breeders’ Cup took place on Nov. 10, 1984.

Where: Lexington, Ky.

Fans cheer at Keeneland during the 2015 event. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Breeders’ Cup takes its show on the road every year, and in 2022 the event will be held at beautiful Keeneland Race Course in the heart of Thoroughbred country, Lexington, Ky. This is the third time the Breeders’ Cup has been held at Keeneland with the first instance taking place in 2015 and the second time just two years ago, when fans were prohibited from attending due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In past years, the Breeders’ Cup has been held at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Del Mar, Calif.; Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.; Hollywood Park (formerly in Inglewood, Calif.); Aqueduct in New York, N.Y.; Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.; Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.; Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.; Woodbine in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Arlington Park (formerly in Arlington Heights, Ill.); Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas.; and Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.

Fun fact: The track to host the most Breeders’ Cup in history is Santa Anita Park, which has held the event 10 times since its inception in 1984.

Why: To see who’s the best of the best

In 1982, a group of prominent Thoroughbred breeders from Kentucky led by John Gaines coordinated to create an event that would draw the very best horses in the world to find out once and for all who is the best Thoroughbred on the globe. Two years later, the very first Breeders’ Cup World Championships was held at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif. on Nov. 10, 1984, with seven races on offer: the Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Sprint, Mile, Distaff, Turf, and Classic.

Since then, horse racing’s World Championships have grown to a two-day racing festival with 14 races, and the spirit of the Breeders’ Cup remains strong with the best of the best competing annually on an international stage.

Fun fact: 64,254 attended the very first Breeders’ Cup at Hollywood Park.

How: Nominations and winning designated races

There are a few ways for Thoroughbreds to arrive at the Breeders’ Cup: all Thoroughbred foals (baby horses) are eligible to be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup before Oct. 15 of the year they’re born; it’s a $400 fee that ensures that foal will be eligible to the Breeders’ Cup when he or she is of racing age. If a racehorse isn’t nominated to the Breeders’ Cup within the year of birth, their owner can supplement them into the race by paying a fee on a sliding scale based on their age and whether their sire (father) is also nominated. 

Horses can earn spots in the Breeders’ Cup in designated “Win and You’re In” races. These Challenge Series races are a big deal: the Breeders’ Cup pays the entry fees and guarantees a starting position in a corresponding Championships race for all Challenge Series race winners as long as the winner is nominated to the Breeders’ Cup by Oct. 25. In addition, the Breeders’ Cup will provide a $40,000 travel allowance to the connections of all Championship starters from outside of North America and a $10,000 travel allowance for starters within North America that are stabled outside of Kentucky. These Challenge Series races are held in 11 countries across the world, so there are plenty of opportunities for horses to qualify no matter where they’re from.

Fun fact: There are 82 Win and You’re In qualifying stakes races into the Breeders' Cup World Championships this year.

What to Expect in 2022

The Breeders’ Cup was closed to fans when it was last held at Keeneland in 2020, and as a result an agreement was made to bring the event back to Lexington sooner than usual, just two years later. While tickets are limited, there are still some available! Visit the Breeders’ Cup site to find your tickets today.

Planning to watch from home? Coverage of horse racing’s World Championships will be on NBC, Peacock, and USA Network; you can also download the Breeders’ Cup apps for iPhone and Android for an in-depth, second-screen experiences, virtual AR filters, and more. Also, be sure to keep an eye on our social media channels, since we’ll have a wealth of livestreams leading up to the World Championships to keep you informed and ready for the biggest weekend in horse racing!

A tradition of traditions

Eclipse Sportswire

The Breeders’ Cup has several traditions that are inherent to the World Championships: since 1988, each horse who wins dons a signature purple and gold flower garland comprised of Beauty Asters, Golden Asters, Cremons, and Catteleya Orchids, which are grown exclusively for the Breeders’ Cup.

Another tradition of the Breeders’ Cup are the trophies awarded after each race. The trophies are an authentic bronze reproduction of the original Torrie horse that was created in Florence by Giovanni da Bologna in the late 1580s, and the history behind the sculpture is fascinating. Additionally, a larger version of the sculpture moves to the Breeders’ Cup host track every year to help racing fans celebrate the upcoming World Championships.

Cheers to the Breeders’ Cup signature cocktails

You probably know that the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby is the mint julep; the Preakness raises a glass with a Black-Eyed Susan, and the Belmont toasts with a Belmont Jewel. The Breeders’ Cup has not one but two signature cocktails: the Torrie Cup and the Garland.

The Torrie Cup is 1½ parts Maker’s Mark Bourbon, three-quarter part sweet vermouth, 1½ parts orange juice, and two parts lemonade. The Garland is comprised of one part Tito’s Handmade Vodka, one part triple sec , one part honey-green tea, and a half-part fresh lemon juice. Cheers!

More about the horses

Racehorses come in many different sizes, ranging from about 900 to 1,400 pounds, and colors, including Bay, Black, Chestnut, Dark Bay or Brown, or Gray or Roan. There also has been in recent years an increase in White Thoroughbreds. Many racehorses stand out because of markings, like a white blaze or star on their heads or one or more white legs or feet.

When a Thoroughbred is born, it is called a foal, which is a name for a young horse in the first year of its life. Thoroughbreds are called weanlings after they have been separated from their mothers; and a yearling refers to a male or female Thoroughbred in its second calendar year of life, which commences Jan. 1 of the year following its birth, and Jan. 1 is the official birthday for all Thoroughbreds. All Thoroughbred racehorses must be registered according to the guidelines of The Jockey Club and races begin for racehorses in the spring of their 2-year-olds seasons. The average Thoroughbred racehorse runs about five times a year according to 2020 data, so just getting to the Breeders’ Cup is a tremendous accomplishment for every horse and their human connections.

Fun fact: Twenty-five Breeders’ Cup winners have gone on to sire (meaning to father) Breeders’ Cup winners. They are: A.P. Indy, American Pharoah, Awesome Again, Capote, Cherokee Run, Chief’s Crown, Court Vision, Cozzene, Curlin, Ghostzapper, Gulch, Gun Runner, High Chaparral, Macho Uno, Nyquist, Pleasantly Perfect, Royal Academy, Speightstown, Tapizar, Tiznow, Unbridled’s Song, Uncle Mo, War Chant, and Wild Again. Furthermore, there are four female horses (called mares) who won Breeders’ Cup races and had progeny win at the World Championships: Hollywood Wildcat, My Flag, Personal Ensign, and Shared Account.

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