NBC is covering this event with the same magnitude it covers the Super Bowl - the same number of cameras, same number of personnel and same amount of attention. Its cameras have lived in and out of Churchill Downs for months, capturing color scenes that you may see Saturday during four continuous hours of programming. Nearly 15 million people will watch the seven races - seven
Kentucky Derby-caliber races about a half-hour apart.
The partying began in earnest last night, when 2,500 Louisvillians and visitors gathered for dinner, dancing and wagering on seven cinema races with play money ("Breeders' Cup Bucks") at an affair called the Breeders' Cup Bash. It may still be going on.
Louisville has been preparing for this international racing celebration
from the moment the Kentucky Derby ended here in May, and the city seems intent on making 1988 the best Breeders' Cup experience yet. Louisville wants to become the permanent home for the event, which has been held once in New York and thrice in California.
So unlike Derby week, Louisville businesses are not price-gouging. They promised the mayor and the Breeders' Cup planners that they wouldn't. So the three-mile cab ride from downtown to the track is $6.50, not $18 as it is on Derby Day. The Galt House, the Breeders' Cup headquarters on the waterfront, is $81 for a double, not $575 for a three-night minimum as it is during Derby Week. There are no $30 breakfasts here this week.
There are 9,000 class-A hotel rooms in Louisville, and they have been booked for weeks. The 50,000 reserved seats at Churchill Downs have long since been sold. "It's as tough a ticket as the Derby," said Edgar Allen of the track's public relations office.
With good weather, a Breeders' Cup attendance record (69,155) certainly will fall (a long-range forecast calls for a chance of rain Saturday, but it has been sunny, clear and in the 60s all week). The single-day North American wagering record of $41 million and change that was set here on Derby Day, May 7, also might fall.
The track will offer advance wagering on the seven Breeders' Cup races starting tomorrow; simulcast betting will be available at 91 sites in the United States (including Philadelphia Park, Penn National and Delaware Park) and Canada, and 1,024 pari-mutuel windows - more than at any other track - will be opened at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
Most of the heavyweight horsemen have been here for days - D. Wayne Lukas, whose horses have won $4.6 million in Breeders' Cup races (he has five of the 12 horses entered in the Juvenile Fillies event alone); Charlie Whittingham, who won the $3 million Classic last year with Ferdinand; crusty Woody Stephens, here with Forty Niner; and Jack Van Berg, here with Alysheba, last year's Kentucky Derby winner and leading candidate for 1988 Horse of the Year. If Alysheba wins the $1.35 million first-place money in the Classic, he will surpass John Henry as racing's all-time money-winner ($6.56 million).
There is also Claude "Shug" McGaughey 3d, who trains the small but powerful stable of Ogden Phipps and who has favorites in three races here - undefeated filly Personal Ensign in the Distaff, undefeated Buckpasser colt Mining in the Sprint and once-beaten Easy Goer in the Juvenile.
Lukas, who has won 6 of 36 Breeders' Cup races (nobody else has won more than two) has 13 horses entered in six of the seven races here. McGaughey has six horses in four races.
For pure romance, it will be hard to top McGaughey's story in the Distaff, where Personal Ensign, the 4-year-old bay daughter of Private Account, will race for the last time. If she wins, she will become the first major American horse to retire undefeated since Colin, 83 years ago.
There was a touch of backstretch drama Tuesday at Barn 41, where 75-year- old Whittingham's horses are stabled. At about 10 a.m., a big yellow horse van pulled up and loaded Ferdinand, who was Whittingham's first and only Derby winner when the colt upset favored Snow Chief in 1986. Ferdinand, a $15,000 colt, went on to become the fifth-leading money-winner of all time. He was retired to stud last week, and the van was there to take him to his new home, Claiborne Farm - away from the race track forever. The backstretch saluted him as the van drove away. There wasn't a dry eye at Barn 41.