Keeneland + Breeders’ Cup = Recipe for Renewed Elitism?

There’s been aMarion_TalkoftheTracK lot of chatter lately, about the Breeders’ Cup moving to Keeneland for 2015.  So God forbid that I would ignore the conversation, and walk away as if I don’t have an opinion…

IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), this is a weak attempt to convince North American horse racing that, really–we DO know that there’s an East, and yes, we in the East are involved.

Problem is, that Keeneland is not the world’s largest race track.  This is a problem for two reason, from my perspective:

1)  Keeneland administration has promised to install 7,000 supplemental seats, bringing the seating capacity to a whopping 21,000.  Maybe.

I have no idea how many unseated human bodies can be squeezed in, cheek-to-jowl, standing like sardines on-end in an oily can.  Perhaps another 20,000?  It seems logical to me that Keeneland, if stretched to its seams, may explode.  I’m not being a pessimist, merely a realist.

It’s a matter of physics, folks:  you cannot take 20 pounds of butter and cram it into a one-pound tub.

And of course, there’s the matter of things like adequate bathrooms to accommodate that many people in a space that’s intended to hold half that many, or one-third.

We know how many people can fit into tracks like Belmont, Churchill Downs, Monmouth and Arlington Park.  And yet, all those tracks have at one time or another had logistical problems.  Belmont and Churchill Downs, for example,  have ample space for in excess of 100,000 people at a racing event, but still must work out the bugs regarding bathrooming et al.  That’s not a knock at NYRA or CDI, them’s merely facts.

So I’m guessing  that unless the Keeneland Association lines those soft green fields–now used as parking space and tailgaiting for the Biffs and Buffys–unless those rolling Bluegrass hills are lined with yellow port-a-potties–Keeneland is going to have a problem of monstrous proportion on their hands.  Some of the same people who sniffed this year about Belmont’s lavatory problems on June 7th may finally understand the difficulty of the task of hosting an army of race fans.

Fans who start out in the morning as fun-loving, enthusiastic money-spenders–who degenerate as the day goes on, into an army of irate, angry complainers.

2)  Now, the fact that Keeneland probably has bitten off more than it comfortably can chew is daunting enough as a thought.  I pity their security detail–their parking attendants–and their customer service people who’ll have to deal with SO many more people than the place was designed to hold.

But pity I more the people who will shell out money for those few 21,000 seats.   In fact, there will be fewer than 21,000 seats available to slobs like you and me, because the Keeneland Clubhouse is a private, members-only club.  This, from the Keeneland website:

The Keeneland Club is a private members’ organization created for the benefit of patrons involved in, or who support, the Thoroughbred industry. Membership is by invitation only. Interested parties may complete a membership application which requires the endorsement of two current club members. New applications are held for one year before they are eligible for consideration.

The Keeneland Club is at full capacity and new memberships are limited by the number of members who resign each year. The wait list for membership is extremely long and the majority of applicants will not receive an invitation for membership. All applications are reviewed by the membership committee once each year. An applicant’s participation in racing, buying and selling at Keeneland is a strong consideration for membership. Invitees will be contacted by letter.

When first I went to Keeneland in October, 2007, my friend, Clay Robinson, spelled it out for me that–unlike at my NYRA tracks–and every other track I’ve visited–I could not just pay Clubhouse Admission, and at least have the privilege of hanging in the Clubhouse area.  I was not a member–nor was Clay–so we sat ourselves down on the (lovely) patio behind the grandstand area.  (This is actually a pretty groovy place to sit, but it won’t work for too many people on Breeders’ Cup Days.  My best guess was that at that time, the patio held perhaps 30 people.)

So, now, thinking about those folks who grandfathered into their membership in the Keeneland Association–or who somehow or other got two members to vouch for them–do you really think that they’ll be willing to relinquish their seats for the Breeders’ Cup?  I’ll tell you what:  were I a member, and I thought that Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup wanted to sell off my ability to sit in the Clubhouse–I’d kick like John Henry in a particularly ornery mood.

That sounds like a PR nightmare, to me.  Keeneland can’t afford to p off their bread-and-butter, that is, the Keeneland Association members.  So let’s imagine that the members get to keep their seats.

That leaves fewer seats for ticket buyers who aren’t members.  And you know the Law of Supply and Demand applies here just as it does at Juicy Couture:  if you have only X amount of seats available for sale, those seats are going to cost a LOT more than if you have XXX amount of seats to sell.

You won’t get a seat in the Clubhouse, but you WILL have the privilege of making a decision:  buy a Breeders’ Cup ticket, or send your kid to college.  This is just my long-winded way of saying that I’m certain that seats for the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland will be higher than they’ve ever been before.  And, even though attending the Breeders’ Cup is something to which many people aspire–and now will be closer to folks on the East end of North America–still, tickets  may start at $800 or $1000 (my guess).   And that higher price  may very well weed out those of us whose last names aren’t Vanderbilt or Astor.

And that exclusivity is elitism, plain and simple.  I don’t know if it’s the intention of the Breeders’ Cup administrators to turn the event into an event only for Those to the Manor Born.  I don’t know what they’re thinking, but I can’t imagine that it didn’t cross their minds as they considered putting the BC 2015 at a track that’s

a) Considerably smaller than other available tracks and

b) Has a Clubhouse that’s not open to The Masses.

No one likes elitism, except when we’re on the receiving end.  (And everyone should experience the delight of being Chosen at least once in their lives.)

But for an event that purports to invite the entire world to America, to experience our racing and hospitality–this seems like a pretty inhospitable way to treat the people who live right-next-door.  The average folks from Versailles, Cincinnati and Florence may find themselves watching the two days of racing from the air-conditioned comfort of their homes, because they can’t swing it to buy one of the few available seats.

What were the BC people thinking?  I don’t know,  but surely I hope that they weren’t thinking that they’d figured out how–at least at BC 2015–to keep The Rest of Us outside the sacred gate.