Keeneland closed its 17-day fall meet on Saturday, producing the second-highest attendance in track history for the fall.
On-track attendance during the meet, held Oct. 6-28, totaled 270,555, second only to last fall's record 276,543. Average daily attendance of 15,915 was just short of the record 16,267 in 2016. Robust attendance was fueled by near-record crowds of 19,204 on opening day and 29,636 on Saturday, Oct. 14, for the second-largest fall meet single-day attendance in Keeneland history.
Keeneland awarded average daily purses of $698,036, a fall meet record and a 3.3 percent increase from $675,750 in 2016, to rank the track among the richest racing programs in the country. Average starters per race numbered 9.2, a slight increase from 2016, when the Lexington, Ky., track averaged 9.1 runners per race during the fall meet.
“The fall meet embodied Keeneland's mission to offer the highest-quality racing possible,” Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason said. “Toward that goal, we enjoyed competition among the nation's top owners, trainers and jockeys; gave away record purse money; saw an increase in field size; and welcomed a large contingent of Breeders' Cup-bound horses. Those elements make racing at Keeneland an experience like no other, and we are gratified by the loyal support of our fans and horsemen.”
On-track wagering during totaled $17,597,035, just shy of last year's $17,793,419 but well below the record $27,591,341 established in 2013. Average daily on-track handle was $1,035,120 versus $1,046,672 in 2016. All-sources wagering on Keeneland racing totaled $121,712,702, down 8.4 percent when compared to last fall's $132,937,720 and the lowest since 2010. The all-time high wagering mark was set in 2013, when $142,999,252 was bet. Average daily all-sources handle of $7,159,571 dipped 8.4 percent from last year's $7,819,866 and is 14.9 percent lower than the 2013 record $8,411,722.
Keeneland increased its wagering takeout prior to the fall meeting, sparking criticism from many corners, including from perennial leading owner Ken Ramsey. The Horseplayers Association of North America urged a boycott of Keeneland to its members.
“These are solid results, especially considering that eight races during the meet were taken off the turf and three race cards were conducted either entirely or partially on an off track,” Keeneland vice president of racing and sales Bob Elliston said. “Those factors adversely impacted field size and therefore overall wagering, particularly when compared to last fall when we enjoyed perfect weather every race day.”
Thirty-one horses that raced or trained at Keeneland this fall were pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup World Championships, to be held Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar.
Nine of those horses secured a berth in the Breeders' Cup via Breeders' Cup Challenge races held during the fall meet. Eight “Win & You're In” stakes headlined Keeneland's blockbuster Fall Stars Weekend, Oct. 6-8. Horses earning an automatic spot were:
Darley Alcibiades (G1) winner Heavenly Love (14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies-G1), Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) winner Suedois (FR) (Mile-G1), Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) winner Free Drop Billy (Sentient Jet Juvenile-G1), First Lady (G1) winner Zipessa (Filly and Mare Turf-G1) and Juddmonte Spinster (G1) winner Romantic Vision (Distaff-G1); and
Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix (G2) winner Whitmore (Sprint-G1), Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) winner Finley'sluckycharm (Filly and Mare Sprint-G1) and Dixiana Bourbon (G3) winner Flameaway (Juvenile Turf-G1).
Rushing Fall won Keeneland's ninth Breeders' Cup Challenge race, the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine (G3) on Oct. 11, to earn a position in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).
The competition wasn't limited to racing's equine stars. Keeneland boasts one of the country's deepest jockey colonies, which this Fall featured North American leaders Jose Ortiz, Javier Castellano, Mike Smith, Julien Leparoux, Florent Geroux, John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, Robby Albarado, Corey Lanerie, Ricardo Santana Jr., Joe Bravo, Brian Hernandez Jr., Calvin Borel, Jose Lezcano, Paco Lopez, James Graham, Chris Landeros, Luis Saez and Tyler Gaffalione.
Many of the sport's top trainers also were represented, including Mark Casse, Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Steve Asmussen, Michael Maker, Graham Motion, Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, Brad Cox, Wesley Ward, Shug McGaughey, Kenny McPeek, Dale Romans, D. Wayne Lukas, Richard Baltas, Tom Proctor and Nick Zito.
“The presence of so many nationally prominent trainers and jockeys and the level of competition among them are unmatched in North American racing,” Elliston said. “We extend our thanks to them, and to our owners, for making this Fall Meet an exceptional one.”
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