The Breeders’ Cup Classic is the signature race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, a two-day, 14-race event that is one of the biggest highlights of the annual horse racing calendar. The Classic pits the top horses from around the world against each other in the ultimate showdown to finish out the year in horse racing. Here’s everything you need to know about racing’s grand finale at Keeneland Race Course:
What is the Breeders’ Cup Classic?
The $6 million Classic is a 1 1/4-mile race on the dirt with 14 spots open to both male and female horses aged three years and up. The Classic is considered the grand finale of the horse racing season, with some of the richest horses, trainers and jockeys going head-to-head.
The expected field for the Breeders’ Cup Classic includes John Sadler’s undefeated Flightline. Bob Baffert may have one entry in Taiba. Todd Pletcher may have a trio of horses in the race: Life Is Good, Americanrevolution and Happy Saver. Kentucky Derby longshot winner Rich Strike is also expected to be in the field.
Related: What to know about the 2022 Breeders’ Cup World Championships
In the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic, at Del Mar Racetrack in Del Mar, California, Knicks Go bested a strong field that included Medina Spirit, Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie. Knicks Go, trained by Brad Cox and also a winner at the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes and the Whitney Stakes, would go on to win 2021 Horse of the Year.
The Breeders’ Cup changes tracks every year, with Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky hosting for the third time in 2022. Keeneland most recently hosted in 2020, with limited attendance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Breeders’ Cup runs from November 4-5. Friday’s coverage goes from 2 to 6 p.m. ET, and Saturday’s coverage runs from 1 to 6 p.m. ET. Post time for the Breeders’ Cup Classic is tentatively set for Saturday, November 5th at 5:40 p.m ET.
Related: From experiment to history: The history of the Breeders’ Cup
Coverage of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships will air across NBC and USA, as well as on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock. The Breeders’ Cup Classic will air on Saturday, November 5th.
Friday, November 4th (Future Stars Friday): Coverage airs on USA Network from 2:00 p.m. ET – 6:00 p.m. ET, with additional coverage on NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports app.
Saturday, November 5th: Coverage airs from 1 p.m. ET – 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network. Then, at 3:30 p.m. ET, coverage moves to NBC and Peacock, including the broadcast of the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a post time of approximately 5:40 p.m ET. Additional coverage airs on NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports app.
What is the Breeders’ Cup, and what has it meant to the sport of Thoroughbred Racing? The closest parallel I can think of is the founding of what has become the Super Bowl, in 1967. The mystery surrounding the event was how the upstarts of the American Football League (the AFL) would do against the established franchises of the NFL. Although the Green Bay Packers dominated the first two editions of the game, the victory of Joe Namath and the Jets in 1969 played a major role in forcing a merger of the leagues and a recognition of the quality of the AFL.
History of the Breeders’ Cup
Just as the Super Bowl energized and unified pro football, the Breeders’ Cup had a unifying effect for horse racing when it began in 1984. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup, it was not as common for horses to ship cross-country, and it was even more rare for horses to ship from Europe for major American races. It was the vision of John Gaines, John Nerud, and a group of industry leaders to create what would be a true World Championship event of the sport. As Ray Paulick pointed out in a 2015 Paulick Report article: “It was an amazing accomplishment, not just for Gaines but for the entire Thoroughbred industry, overcoming politics and personal agendas and doing something that was the right thing for the game.” To be sure, there were sacrifices made in order to make the Breeders’ Cup a reality. Consider, for example, the New York Racing Association, whose races in the fall frequently determined year-end awards. Now, vital races on both coasts would serve as prep races for the Breeders’ Cup, and they would lose some of their prestige. It would extend the traditional racing season by nearly a month, which meant that trainers of top-level horses would adjust their schedules to culminate in a Breeders’ Cup appearance. In addition, horses from Europe or Japan would have to make significant adjustments to allow for travel time and a brief quarantine period when they first arrived in the U.S.
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Few people understood how the event would be received, and it had its share of doubters. One of the biggest questions: Would the viewing public be willing to watch seven horse races in an unprecedented 4-hour telecast? To get some perspective on the founding of the event, I spoke to John Gonzalez, who was the producer of NBC’s telecasts in the early years. He spoke of meetings where Gaines and Nerud would discuss why the event required 7 races and large purses, as well as 4 hours of broadcast time. The NBC personnel at these meetings included NBC Sports President Arthur Watson, Executive Producer Mike Weisman, PR expert Mike Cohen, and John Gonzalez. One of the main concerns was how time would be filled with only 14 minutes of real action on the track. But each of these seven races required back stories, paddock reports, a post parade, commentary as the horses were on the track, post-race-analysis and trophy presentations. While some doubted NBC’s ability to fill the 4 hours, once Gonzalez started to create a format for the show, he realized it wouldn’t be a problem.
Another major player in making the event a success was Marge Everett, then the owner of Hollywood Park, which hosted the inaugural in 1984. Her contacts with Hollywood celebrities helped to put the Breeders’ Cup on the map. Celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Jack Klugman, John Forsythe, Linda Evans, and many others were on the telecast. In this era, we have come to expect a celebrity red carpet at major sports events, but this was truly an unprecedented display of star power for a sports telecast. Everett was also instrumental in having the industry cooperate with television as it never had before. When foul claims were debated, NBC had cameras showing the deliberation of the stewards. If jockeys were at the phone near the scales explaining their version of what happened in regard to a foul claim, NBC microphones heard what they were saying. The coverage produced an intimacy with the sport that was rarely seen on a broadcast.
Another part of the success of the event in its early years was the involvement of horsemen. No trainer was more important to the event in those days than D. Wayne Lukas. The Hall of Famer still holds the records for most Breeders’ Cup Wins (20) and starters (167). Back in 1987, when the event was still composed of only 7 races (there are 14 in the present day), Lukas had an incredible 14 starters. I remember going to his barn to get conformation, or “body” shots, of his horses. If he told us to be there at 3 pm, his horses would emerge from the barn with military precision at the stroke of 3. Forty-five years later, at age 87, he is likely to send Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath to the post in the Distaff at this year’s event.
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The Breeders’ Cup has a great history, yet fans who don’t delve into the sport beyond the Triple Crown generally aren’t familiar with its structure. Here are the basics of the event:
I spoke to NBC’s Kenny Rice, and he gave me some analogies to relate the event to other marquee sports. Rice pointed out that the Triple Crown is only for 3-year-olds racing on the dirt, and at that age many horses have not reached the peak of their capabilities. The Breeders’ Cup, however, includes 14 different races that encompass all the “divisions” or categories of racing. As an example, there are 5 races for 2-year-olds, and they vary based on the sex of the horses, the distances, and the racing surface (turf or dirt). He says that the Triple Crown is similar to a high-level college sports event, while the Breeders’ Cup, with all its divisions, is comparable to the NFL playoffs, with the best of each division facing off. Others have compared it to Olympic Track and Field, with athletes competing to be the best across many different categories of events.
The idea of gathering the best horses in the world in each division is at the heart of the Breeders’ Cup concept, and it has given the sport a truly international showcase. There has always been consistent competition from Europe, but last year, two of the races were taken by horses based in Japan. One of the goals from the beginning was to enhance the international feel of the event, and that surely has happened. In addition to the Japanese successes in 2021, consider that the trainer with the 4th highest win total in the history of this U.S.-based event is Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien. Also, the jockey who is tied for the 4th highest win total is England-based Frankie Dettori.
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Another common question about the event is why 14 races are necessary. The best answer that I can give is fairness. Among sprinters, for example, it is generally accepted that males will be just a bit faster. It is true that in the early years of the event, the great fillies Very Subtle and Safely Kept were good enough to beat the boys in the Sprint. It is logical, however, that if there are separate sprint races for male and female horses throughout the year, there should be separate Breeders’ Cup races for male and female horses. Similarly, the Filly and Mare Turf, which debuted in 1999 as the 8th Breeders’ Cup race, created a separate category for female turf runners over a distance of ground. It would be over slightly less distance than the Turf, and it would eliminate the need to have a top-level female turf horse face the best males over a mile-and-a-half. Kenny Rice points out that while there has been some skepticism when new races were introduced, the changes have worked out. He points out the success of Future Stars Friday, with championship races limited to 2-year-olds, as a key example.
Rice also feels that the success of the Breeders’ Cup has brought renewed emphasis to breeding in the sport. Celebrity owners and breeders like Bobby Flay and Bill Parcells are notable examples. On the inaugural telecast of the event in 1984, every winner was acknowledged not only for its racing success, but also for its breeding influence, with video shown of the sire of the winner at its breeding farm. There is no question that the Breeders’ Cup has brought focus onto the breeding side of the industry.
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One of the greatest aspects of the Breeders’ Cup is that every year it is held, it is almost inevitable that there will be great and unforgettable moments. The inaugural event in 1984 was clearly helped by a memorable three-way battle down the stretch that ended with the longshot Wild Again winning the Classic by a head. The elation of victorious jockey Pat Day as he held his riding helmet to the heavens is the signature image in the history of the event. Having such a memorable climax to the inaugural played no small part in boosting the consciousness of the Breeders’ Cup to casual fans. This year, many fans are expecting another great moment as the undefeated Flightline will go to the post as a big favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. NBC’s Randy Moss has said that the performance of Flightline in his most recent race (the Pacific Classic) was as great a performance as has been seen on an American racetrack since Secretariat’s 31-length win in the Belmont Stakes.
The horse racing world closes out a thrilling year with the 39th edition of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland, with coverage exclusively across NBC, USA Network, NBCSports.com and Peacock.
What is the Breeders’ Cup World Championships?
The Breeders’ Cup is horse racing’s last hurrah of the year. Horses from around the globe will compete in 14 races over two days, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic closing out the weekend.
The Breeders’ Cup originated in 1984 as a year-end championship for North American Thoroughbred horses and their breeders. The brainchild of the late John Gaines, the former owner of Gainesway Farm, the Breeders’ Cup was built by Thoroughbred breeders, for Thoroughbred breeders.
In 2007, the Breeders’ Cup was expanded from one day to two. Now, the first day of the weekend is called Future Stars Friday, with many of racing’s most promising colts and fillies running on both the dirt and the turf. Championship Saturday will give out more than $22 million in purse money over nine races, including the $6 million Classic.
Related: How to watch every single Breeders’ Cup race
The Breeders’ Cup runs from November 4-5. Friday’s coverage goes from 2 to 6 p.m. ET, and Saturday’s coverage runs from 1 to 6 p.m. ET. Post time for the Breeders’ Cup Classic is tentatively set for 5:40 p.m ET.
The Breeders’ Cup changes tracks every year, with Keeneland hosting for the third time in seven years (most recently in 2020). Located in Lexington, Kentucky, Keeneland is designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark for its role in the growth of horse racing and is considered one of the best tracks in the entire country.
NBC Sports is home to the 2022 Breeders’ Cup, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app before, during and after. Much of Saturday’s coverage, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will also be available on Peacock.
Friday: Coverage kicks off with Future Stars Friday on November 4th, from 2 to 6 p.m. ET on USA Network, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
Saturday: Coverage resumes November 5th on USA Network, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET, with the broadcast jumping to NBC and Peacock from 3:30-6 p.m. ET.
Horses must be nominated to race in any Breeders’ Cup event. Stallions at stud who are nominated then pass that nomination down to their foals, meaning any offspring of a nominated stallion is eligible to run in a Breeders’ Cup race. Each year, the stallion’s nomination costs as much as his advertised breeding fee and will cover up to the first 50 foals the stallion produces that year before the fee goes up. Foals can also be nominated individually at $400 each, and stallions standing abroad are also eligible. These funds contribute to the Breeders’ Cup purses and go back into the host track.
However, just because a horse is nominated doesn’t mean they’ll run in the Breeders’ Cup.
The “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series is a series of Breeders’ Cup qualifying races that gives the winner an automatic entry into the relevant Breeders’ Cup race (with entry fees paid).
Horses who didn’t get in through a Challenge Series race accumulate points throughout the season by finishing graded races in the money, and the horses with the most points at the end of the season will fill the remaining spots. The final spots in each race will be filled via selection by a panel of experts.
Related: From experiment to history: The history of the Breeders’ Cup
The Breeders’ Cup features a total of 14 races contested across two days the first weekend in November.
Friday, Nov. 4 schedule
Saturday, Nov. 5 schedule
The $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic is the marquee event of the weekend. At 1 1/4 miles long, the Classic has a field of up to 14 horses that must be at least 3 years old. Breeders’ Cup Classic winners have a history of going on to win Horse of the Year, including Knicks Go (2021), Authentic (2020), Curlin (2007) and Cigar (1995)
The last time the Breeders’ Cup was held at Keeneland, Bob Baffert’s Authentic won the Breeders’ Cup Classic by 2 1/4 lengths, becoming just the fourth horse ever to win the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year.
John Sadler’s undefeated Flightline comes into the race as the expected heavy favorite to win. The 4-year-old colt got 2022 started with a win in the Met Mile by 6 lengths. He followed that effort up with a dominant performance in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, winning the race by an astounding 19-and-a-quarter lengths.
While many anticipate Flightline to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he does have some intriguing potential challengers. Taiba, trained by Bob Baffert, may have the most upside to defeat Flightline after a convincing three-length win over the likes of Cyberknife, Zandon and Skippylongstocking in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.
Another expected threat to win could be consistent runner Epicenter. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt earned an impressive win at the Travers Stakes by beating a strong field consisting of 2022 Triple Crown winners by five-and-a-quarter lengths.
Speaking of Triple Crown winners, 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike is expected to be in the field and is coming off a strong performance at the Lukas Classic. The winner of the Lukas Classic, Hot Rod Charlie, is also expected to be in the field and will look to avenge his fourth-place finish in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Watch NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2022 Breeders’ Cup starting with Future Stars Friday on Nov. 4 from 2-6 p.m. ET (USA Network) and continuing with Championship Saturday on Nov. 5 from 1-6 p.m. ET (USA Network until 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock from 3:30-6 p.m. ET).