Closing Shot: Rising To The Challenge

Twenty years ago the Breeders’ Cup had to figure out how to hold its event in a post-9/11 world. This year, the pandemic has again raised the stakes for safety and logistical protocols.

By Liz Mullen
Jockeys hold American flags prior to the start of the 2001 Breeders’ Cup.BloodHorse / Mike Corrado

Twenty years ago, the Breeders’ Cup faced the challenge of hosting its annual World Championships in New York a little over a month after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States.


Even in normal times the Breeders’ Cup is quite a logistical undertaking, with horses coming from all over the world to compete for multimillion-dollar purses.

Dora Delgado, Breeders’ Cup executive vice president and chief racing officer, was in constant contact with then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s office and then New York Gov. George Pataki’s office, as well as state and federal law enforcement agencies before hosting the event at Belmont Park, just outside New York City on Oct. 27, 2001.

“Amid countless unknowns, our combined teams held daily calls to plan for every possible scenario and address potential vulnerabilities to ensure the event could proceed safely and securely,” Delgado said. “In the days leading up to the World Championships, bomb dogs and SWAT teams were on-site and there were snipers along the roofline on race day.”

Both New York authorities and Breeders’ Cup officials wanted to host a patriotic event that brought people together, Delgado said. She is proud they accomplished that, with red, white and blue all around the track and jockeys presenting police officers with flags before running the eight-race event in front of a crowd of 52,987.

This week on Friday and Saturday (Nov. 5-6), California’s Del Mar will host horse racing’s world championships and Breeders’ Cup officials are facing a different issue as it is their first event in the pandemic to run with fans. Last year’s event was run at Keeneland in Kentucky without fans due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We were very much looking forward to hosting a ‘normal’ event after last year’s World Championships took place under strict COVID-19 protocols without fans, but many of the challenges associated with conducting an international event during a pandemic, such as supply chain issues, remain,” she said.

The Breeders’ Cup has adapted seating plans and offerings to meet California’s strict COVID standards and all visitors to the stables must show proof of vaccine or a negative test.

“Our top priority is and always will be the safety and health of our athletes, participants and fans,” Delgado said. “In both cases — after 9/11 and as we emerge from the heights of a global pandemic — we were and are operating in the midst of life-altering events that present unique challenges for conducting an international sporting event like the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in a safe and responsible manner.”


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