While most sporting eyes will be turned toward baseball's World Series this week, the world of horse racing will be converging on Santa Anita Park with the kind of glitz it hasn't witnessed in years.
The 25th anniversary of the Breeders' Cup considered the equine equivalent of the World Series is being held at the historic track and organizers are making the most of it.
Arab Sheikhs, European royalty and wealthy entrepreneurs from around the world are heading to the Arcadia race track, where purses for the 14-race, two-day event will total a record $25.5 million.
There they will be met by Hollywood stars such as Dennis Hopper and Kurt Russell, while Arnold Schwarzenegger will be the first governor to hand out the $5 million top trophy more than double the purse of the Kentucky Derby.
Even luxury retailers such as Bulgari on Rodeo Drive are trying to get a share of the $100 million that wealthy horse owners and racing fans are expected to drop while in Los Angeles for the cup, which starts Friday. Bulgari has designed limited edition watches specifically for each race winner's owner.
And for once, a ticket to the 26,000 seat track is hot. General admission seats go for just $20, but top finish-line seats sell for $1,200 and are being resold online for $2,500 a pop.
"We are competing with Major League Baseball, the NBA and college football and by embracing Hollywood we get our event out front of people who may not know how exciting and beautiful horse racing can be," said Terry Finley, founder and president of New Jersey-based West Point Thoroughbreds, which is entering two horses into the races.
Horse racing and Hollywood were once joined at the hip, with stars such as Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney and Betty Grable regularly seen at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. In fact, Hollywood Park was founded in the 1930s by Jack Warner, founder of Warner Bros. Studios.
However, as other sports grew and gaming options multiplied, tracks lost much of their glamour, and later much of their crowds. Today there is Las Vegas, Indian casinos, off-track betting, and, now, Internet gaming.
The situation got so dire that in 2004 Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and other tracks sought approval from California voters to install slot machines, but opposition financed by Indian casinos killed the measure. Now, Santa Anita, one of the nation's premier tracks, is working with developer Rick Caruso to build a luxury mixed-use development on its vast but often empty parking lot.
However, this weekend's Breeders' Cup presents an opportunity for the track to raise both its profile, and the profile of horse racing in general.
This is the first year in the event's 25-year history that it will be televised live on a major broadcast network. ABC and its cable partner ESPN are taking up nine hours of programming that includes a series of vignettes on the jockeys, trainers and owners of the world's top horses.
At the track there will be corporate hospitality suites on the infield, with Wolfgang Puck providing the catering. Off site, the Grammy Award-winning pop rock band Maroon 5 will be entertaining a mix of 2,000 celebrities and horse racing fans Thursday night at an invitation-only Breeders' Cup party at the newly reopened Hollywood Palladium. That will be followed by a private party at an undisclosed location in the Los Angeles hills where "Dancing with the Stars" producer Brian Gibson and some of the show's cast will perform for an elite group of guests.
"We're trying to bring some of that glitz back," said Finley, who is also on the Breeders' Cup board of directors and has two horses Awesome Gem and Tropic Storm running in the events on Saturday.
There's a lot on the line besides the $25.5 million in prize money.
The Breeders' Cup is expected to pump an estimated $100 million into the local economy, said Sherwood "Chilly" Chillingworth, executive vice president of the Oak Tree Racing Association and host of the event.
Priming the retail pump, Breeders' Cup sponsor Bulgari will be holding an exclusive brunch Wednesday at its Rodeo Drive store, where it will show off its unique race jewels. Each wristwatch, which bears the horse's head symbol of the Breeders' Cup etched into the back, has an estimated value of $7,500.
While the Rodeo Drive invitation-only brunch is reserved for 200 of the most elite horse owners and their guests, retailers and hoteliers from Beverly Hills to Pasadena also are hoping to cash in. The Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons and the Langham Hotel & Spa in Pasadena are expected to host most of the horse owners, though executives at the hotels would not comment.
The Langham, formerly the Ritz Carlton, is nestled into an upscale old moneyed community near San Moreno and is the closest five star hotel to the track. The Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons is close to the chic shops and high-priced restaurants on and near Rodeo Drive.
While none of the shop owners would comment on how much they expect to gain from the Breeders' Cup crowd, the last time the Cup was held here Saudi princesses and Europeans flush with Euros dropped an estimated $35 million in just three days, according to Chillingworth of Oak Tree.
Emirate Airlines, which is based in Dubai, is a race sponsor and plans to launch its first non-stop service from LAX to Dubai the day after the Cup ends. The flights, which average 16 hours on a Boeing 777, have private luxury cabins. Even business class beats most first class seating on other airlines.
Of course, some of the owners don't need an airline.
Dubai's ruler Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum, a race horse owner, is coming in one of his two private jumbo jets. Others from Europe and Asia fly their horses in at an estimated cost of $15,000 each in customized jets which already have begun to land at LAX.
Horse of the Year
The Breeders' Cup, which is owned by an association of horse owners with offices in Lexington, Ky., and New York City, is bringing the cup back to Santa Anita next year. This is the first time in the 25-year history of the cup that it will run at one track consecutively.
Some board members and Breeders' Cup officials have played up the connection with Hollywood as the main reason for returning next year, others have simply cited the seasonable weather in October.
Whatever the reason, this year's event is turning out to be the kind of race that supporters could only wish for. The climax of the two-day event is the Breeders' Cup Classic for 3-year-olds and up, running on the 1 & #378; mile oval track. Last year's winner Curlin is back to defend his title.
Curlin, which also won the 2007 Preakness Stakes and other major races, was named Horse of the Year in January the first three-year-old to receive the honor since 2001. Jess Jackson, the 78-year-old founder of Kendall-Jackson Winery in Northern California, owns Curlin.
The thoroughbred surpassed the $10 million mark in career earnings and became North America's all-time leading money earner when he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup last month at Belmont Park in Elmont New York.
Shortly after winning for the second consecutive time at Belmont, Curlin was flown from New York and arrived at Santa Anita, where he has been training for the big race.
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