Without much fanfare, one of the more important gatherings involving Maryland sports is scheduled for March 18.
That day, the Maryland Jockey Club will make a pitch to representatives of the Breeders' Cup to hold the prestigious horse racing event at Laurel Park in either 2020 or 2021.
The Triple Crown races of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont may be more familiar to casual sports fans, but the Breeders' Cup -- a two-day extravagance that attracts racing royalty -- enjoys a special place in racing's firmament because of the deep talent that shows up to compete.
And because the Breeders' Cup, which is held in late October or early November, shifts its locale annually (in 2017, it's at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Southern California), landing one is akin to luring a Super Bowl. Race organizers have estimated the economic impact for San Diego County, where Del Mar is located, to be about $100 million.
In short, the Breeders' Cup is a really big deal.
"We know this can be incredibly important and beneficial to the city and the state," said Sal Sinatra, the president of the MJC. "As terrific as the Preakness Stakes is every year, this would be different. A Breeders' Cup brings an international audience, and they're real horse racing people."
The Maryland Jockey Club, a subsidiary of Canada-based the Stronach Group, owns Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness Stakes. While the MJC is trying for its first Breeders' Cup, another Stronach Group track, Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles, has held six Breeders' Cups since 2008.
To woo the Breeders' Cup, the MJC will be touting already completed, as well as future upgrades, to Laurel. In recent years, Laurel has undergone a $20 million facelift that ushered in hundreds of flat-screen TVs, new dining and cocktail areas, a new infield board and new barns with surveillance cameras for horse security.
Another Laurel feature that will be a valuable asset in reeling in an international racing event is its turf course, which is considered one of the best in the county. Six of the Breeders' Cup's 13 races are on grass.
Plus, there are plans to put in a section of luxury suites with each one accommodating 14 to 20 people with all the amenities well-heeled fans have come to expect, such as inside and outside viewing, comfy seating, TVs and refrigerators, even an elevator that takes folks right from the parking lot to their fancy boxes.
Overall, the MJC will have more than 80,000 seats available for a Breeders' Cup and will be able to keep just about all spectators comfortable inside.
Also, by the time the Breeders' Cup would be held, a new MARC rail station is expected to open on the Howard County side of the Laurel Park facility.
Sinatra said he's been discussing the notion of bringing the Breeders' Cup to Laurel with race officials around the country, and there's enthusiasm for having the race weekend return to the East Coast. The last time the Breeders' Cup was on the Eastern seaboard was in 2007 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
"I think our location is absolutely ideal in a lot of ways," Sinatra said. "For starters, being halfway between Baltimore and Washington, we have plenty of first-class hotel rooms. We have several airports that national and international travelers can use. And being on the East Coast, that's something that should certainly be appealing to the European connections because they don't have to take their horses nearly as far as when the Breeders' Cup has been on the West Coast."
As a long weekend of all-star racing, the Breeders' Cup would be an economic bonanza for the region and the Maryland Jockey Club, but Sinatra believes there's an opportunity to leverage the event even more.
The Maryland Jockey Club has wanted to revive the former Washington DC International Stakes, which was a marquee event at Laurel Park from the early 1950s through the mid-1990s before it was basically usurped by, well, the Breeders' Cup.
If the MJC could land the Breeders' Cup, Sinatra dreams of holding an International Stakes in late September to bring in some of the international horses early, then run the Maryland Millions in October, and finish with the top-flight racing of the Breeders' Cup.
"The International, which brought horses from all over the world, was the precursor of the Breeders' Cup, and then the Breeders' Cup came along and knocked it out," Sinatra said. "So what better way would there be to bring the thing full circle."
Issue 231: March 2017