Santa Anita Park will play host to the 2016 Breeders' Cup Classic, with the star of the show being California Chrome, a horse that has amassed $13.4 million in winnings to date.

Chrome was born in February 2011, a few months before current Breeders' Cup CEO Craig Fravel was appointed his position in the organization. Fravel leads a nonprofit entity, the job of which is to promote and market the breeding and purchasing of race horses through the vehicle of conducting the Breeders' Cup World Championships.

It is an exciting job for Fravel, who was trained to be a lawyer, but has been in the racing business since 1990. Fravel served as Executive Vice President of the Del Mar racetrack in San Diego for twenty years, was made President and General Manager of the track in 2010, and then left for the Breeders' Cup, where he remains today.

How Fravel's legal education led to a job in horse racing.

Fravel graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1982. He worked for two years at a law firm in Washington D.C. before moving to San Diego in 1985. There, Fravel worked in law for another five years, practicing corporate finance, securities and general corporate work.

"My training was as a lawyer. I worked for a law firm in San Diego and was lucky enough to have Del Mar [racetrack] as a client," says Fravel. "One day, walking down the hallway, I was offered a job to go work there and I jumped at it."

Why Fravel believes his legal education is important for leading the Breeders' Cup.

Fravel is prone to telling people that he believes obtaining a legal education is a worthwhile pursuit. That said, Fravel was not the biggest fan of practicing law, but he is glad that he practiced, even though he admits that he did not enjoy the day-to-day life as a lawyer.

"Going to a school like Virginia, there are just a lot of opportunities open to you afterwards," explains Fravel. "But just the intellectual processes and dynamic of trying to see different sides of issues and represent different perspectives was very valuable."

Interestingly, Fravel is under the assumption that he was hired, in part, because of his legal background and lack of horse racing knowledge.

"I think I was hired in part, and this is going to sound strange, because I didn't know anything about horse racing, and at the time I think people thought having someone who just had a completely fresh view of things was a good thing," opines Fravel. "I knew a little bit on the corporate side about my client at the time, but in terms of what happens on the race track or the dynamics of marketing or regulatory aspects of the sport . . . those were not things I was tuned in with very much."

Fravel was also able to provide extra value for Del Mar racetrack with some years of legal practice under his belt. He spent a lot of time working on legislative matters in Sacramento, drafting legislation and drafting terms of legislation, as well as labor agreements and collective bargaining contracts.

"Now I would say it's really just about using the skill sets of the intellectual approaches to problem solving and trying to develop new programs," explains Fravel. "The training is more fine tuning of the mind."

How Fravel quickly adopted to a life in horse racing.

Fravel clearly remembers the two weeks prior to earning his start in the horse racing industry. He thought that he needed to learn a little bit more about horse racing, so he bought a couple of books.

"One was a Dick Francis novel and the other one was a book that Andy Beyer wrote about gambling called My $50,000 Year at the Races, and I read both of them on an airplane to and from the East Coast mainly so I would learn the jargon a little bit and when people were in meetings using terms, at least I would be familiar with them hopefully from reading the books, and it worked out pretty well," says Fravel.

Francis was a champion jockey who wrote more than forty novels, most of which concerned thoroughbred horse racing.

Fravel's advice for a future Breeders' Cup CEO.

Fravel strongly believes that working at a race track gives any individual a huge advantage toward becoming an executive in the horse racing industry. He also believes that a background in events is important. However, knowledge of technology may be the differentiating factor even in a business focused on breeding horses.

"I think people who have some real good business experience in the technology/digital marketplace with respect to events would be a good fit for this job," says Fravel, whose particular job today is as much about event planning and marketing as it is anything else.

Published on: Nov 5, 2016
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