Breeders' Cup perks: Smoked salmon, Kentucky Bourbon, celebs

Published Oct. 31, 2015 6:00 p.m. EDT

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) There really is no bad seat at the Breeders' Cup.

Some seats are just better than others for those willing to pay.

The Breeders' Cup sold premium ticket packages at Keeneland as high as $2,000 each for corporate suites with perks such as dinner on Friday by celebrity chef Bobby Flay and music by country singer Tim McGraw.

Of course, the two grand didn't include lodging; let's not get carried away.


Then there were the mid-range seats from $300-$1,500, which seemed to be the most popular among spectators. They were located in a row of chalet suites and the bourbon lounge running from the far turn to the top of the stretch. Some of those enclosed white tents featured endless food and drink as well, and a chance for sightings of celebrities such as Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, who caused a minor stir upon arriving early in the afternoon.

Some fans like Mark Blackwood thought it was worth every cent.

He was ecstatic being at his first Breeders' Cup in the Trophy Lounge at the final turn, where $1,500 badges were scanned. Sitting among a few friends from Arkansas, the Fayetteville resident marveled over his gift package that included crystal bourbon snifters, blankets and entry to the paddock.

''The most important thing was just getting into this race,'' Blackwood said as drinks were delivered to his table. ''This is a dream come true. I couldn't fathom this, with all the gifts and a front-row seat.''

Nope, there were no growling, hungry stomachs or dry, thirsty mouths in the Trophy Lounge.

Lunch included green curry shrimp and pan-roasted chicken, and servers rarely let cups or plates go empty. And there was plenty of bourbon, Kentucky's signature beverage.

Things were even swankier in the corporate suites atop the grandstand, where horsemen such as American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat dined. Smoked salmon, top-shelf liquor and gift bags featuring high-end binoculars were spotted in the suites off-limits to the media. Those top-tier tickets included entry to Saturday night's Finish Line party at Stone Street Farm in Lexington.

Officials wanted to make sure the Breeders' Cup first stop at Keeneland was a party as well as sporting event. They added 21,000 temporary seats to accommodate ticket demand, though those will be taken down in the coming days.

Seems like they succeeded. Saturday drew 50,155.

''This is something regulars at Keeneland have never experienced,'' Breeders' Cup vice president of marketing Bryan Pettigrew said. ''We worked with our partners to make it better and put together chalets to enhance the racing experience. Plus, the track has bent over backwards to help with any challenges.''

And there were a few hiccups along the way.

A situation in the bourbon lounge left a bad taste in the mouths of fans such as Steve Glaven.

He was upset Friday at not having the reserved seat he paid $550 for inside the lounge, and he had plenty of unhappy company. A ruckus arose when thousands of fans sitting in the reserved area were later told to move.

The Saratoga Springs, New York, resident said he was given a grandstand seat as consolation, but wasn't sure if he'd be so lucky on Saturday as he stood at a table outside the large tent on a chilly day.

''The view is fine, and at least I've got something to lean on,'' Glaven said. ''The people here have been great, but I think this area was oversold. Thank goodness it didn't rain. What would they have done then?''

Fortunately for Cassidy Reeh and Beth Duncan, they found plenty of places to sit in the lounge on Saturday.

Though they questioned paying $300 for Saturday tickets, which Reeh joked, ''gets you the right to fight for a seat,'' they thought it was worth enjoying the Breeders' Cup experience in person.

Like many of those at Keeneland, they wanted to see racing's marquee championships and the sport's superstar in American Pharoah in his final start before retiring. Seated beneath one of hundreds of TV screens, they were happy.

''Knowing (Pharoah) was going to run here after winning the Triple Crown, it's worth it,'' said Duncan, from Atlanta. ''I mean, this experience is like MasterCard. It's Priceless!''