Poor Weather, Dirt Blamed for Decline in Keeneland Meet Stats

by | 10.15.2014 | 6:29pm

Figures for Keeneland's fall meet are down sharply from last year's meet, according to a Daily Racing Form report out Wednesday. Attendance has tumbled 19 percent, while on-track handle is down 14 percent.

Officials attribute the changes to the poor weather, including liberal amounts of rain and cool weather, as well as a somewhat stronger-than-average showing by the University of Kentucky's football team. The team had afternoon home games on both of the two Saturdays of the Keeneland meet so far.

Keeneland director of mutuels Jim Goodman admitted that even with better weather and scheduling, he had expected a decline due the change in track surface. Field sizes are smaller as fewer horses ship in for dirt than the old artificial surface, and Goodman anticipates that horseplayers are waiting to get a feel for the dirt track before returning to old wagering levels.

Read more at the Daily Racing Form 

  • DownUnder

    Not to mention the big computer team that has stopped betting the U.S. market. They were responsible for the big drop in September and will lead to another 10% drop in October.

    • Hamish

      Which computer team dropped U.S. racing and why? American horse racing Pu-Bahs must pay attention to the whims of its largest customers.

      • Derby Dan

        For 3 years Wise Dan trained on the synthetic at Keenland with out a pimple and now after only 3 weeks on this state of the art dirt he is out with a broken leg.

        • Count_FleetofFoot

          Hmmm. First I’ve heard this mentioned.

        • Racingwithbruno

          Really Derby Dan like you have seen him train? Three years without a pimple? He was awful after coming off the poly training track shipping up to Saratoga, so I have no idea how you can make that assumption. He trained on the dirt up at Saratoga and improved rapidly.

        • Anton Chigurh

          Does he train over the main track or the training track which is still poly?

      • no names please

        not in a position to discuss specifics but we have scaled back dramatically in the u.s due to margin compression. major tracks have priced themselves out as far as we are concerned and our returns are just not commensurate with the positions risks we take. we and the other teams hope the falloff in turnover will force content distributors to reconsider their actions.

    • togahombre

      sounds like urban legend

    • bryan e

      if racing wants to last long-term, they will eliminate the margins and drive all the big computer teams away.

  • Andy

    ok, so the weather I can get for an excuse, but blaming the Kentucky football team? That’s a new one. Also, Goodman say “

  • Jttf

    This surface doesn’t have the speed bias like the old dirt surface. So handicappers don’t have a lot of confidence yet. This dirt has similar results to churchills dirt.
    Horses that used the synthetic surface, had good results in the breeders cup. Why get rid of a surface that made horses better ?
    If pimlico ever closes, keeneland would be a good place for the Preakness.

    • Count_FleetofFoot

      Interesting idea. Probably won’t happen, though, since Stronach would retain the rights to the Preakness even in the event that Pimlico closed. He could move it to one of his more successful tracks, like Gulfstream or Santa Anita.

  • Black Helen

    “Field sizes are smaller as fewer horses ship in for the artificial surface”

    The new surface is dirt, why is he calling it artificial??
    Dippin in that KY bourbon??

  • Windways

    Rain = off the turf = half the field scratches because they won’t run on dirt (most, if not all would run on Poly) = less handle.

  • kyle

    Personally I’m glad Keeneland went back to dirt. It was confusing having one racing organization succeed.

  • LongTimeEconomist

    Those of us here in Lexington know how wet and miserable the weather has been. And, in the 60 years or so I’ve been in and around racing, wet tracks have always meant scratches and shorter fields, which we all know affects handle.

    To me, as an individual, I stopped betting on synthetic surface racing several years ago due to the form changes it creates and had been looking forward to betting on dirt races again.

    Fortunately, Keeneland has profits from the sales to subsidize the entire operation, but the higher purses in NY have to be keeping some portions of some major stables up there.

  • Racingwithbruno

    I have clocked and played the ponies here at Keeneland for over ten years, I have had my and partners horses train here, poly and dirt, as well as watching, clocking analyzing countless KEE 2yo’s in training sales in April.

    I did not play nearly as much during the polytrack era especially last three years, it catered to slow horses, stymied brilliant speed horses and results made no sense, just see some of the Poly renditions of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.

    I have found this main track to be exceptional, horses travel it over well and soundly, you don’t see horses not handle or stumble, bobble, etc. and I am VERY HARD TO PLEASE when it comes to surfaces. It has also been true in the afternoon, taking a ton of water and holding up to be fair and very playable even during downpours, where other tracks turn to soup. The response on my site has been strong, if some are not playing maybe its because they are sour on the game, or have other interests.

    Jim Goodman makes notes about why handle is down, and the weather is a big part of it, but let’s not blame the dirt, because it has performed admirably. The right horses are winning over it.

    As far poly would have had bigger fields because of off turf, maybe, but once again, Poly was not a natural surface for horses to go over and if people would see through our eyes you wouldn’t your horse on poly either. Do not cite stats to me, stats don’t include all hind end issues that develop and cut careers short.

    As far as I am concerned Keeneland has done a tremendous bringing possibly a new era to dirt racing. Hi Tech dirt as they call it

    • kyle

      Despite the disadvantage- “don’t cite facts or stats or handle numbers. Nobody played poly and all the horses got injured”- I’ll take a crack. “Just see some of the poly runnings of The Blue Grass.” Yeah, no faint hearted sprinter riding a gold rail to a blowout win. No Bluegrass Cat or Thunder Gulch running duds. Just big fields, highly competitive racing ( Getting 19-1 on Brilliant Speed; should we have given that back when he didn’t run great inThe Derby? Of course, he didn’t turn out too bad. No Sinister Minister, though), and good horseman using the surface to hone the best horses of the era. Yup, this is much better. Don’t have to worry about a Zenyatta or a Wise Dan confusing the industry or silly, irrelevant metrics like handle and attendence.

      • davidinD

        Kyle, if you are going to use quotation marks, by common standards of citation and proper use of the English language you need to accurately quote the person. You were paraphrasing rather than quoting Bruno and you should have not used the quotations because it misrepresents what Bruno was saying. It’s a misleading form of writing.

        • kyle

          Mr PhD, I think you were somehow misdirected. I think you want “The Pedant Report.” Here we are discussing horseracing, a subject you have proven to know little about. “Hey, why doesn’t Kentucky Downs build a dirt track?” Is my accuracy better on that one? Paulick Report readers probably aren’t as dumb as you make them out. Bruno’s comment is right above and my sarcasm obvious.

          • kyle

            Well, present company excluded.

          • davidinD

            ‘Pedant Report’ is actually quite funny and I definitely deserved it; that was a good joke. :)

            For the record, I find most PR comments quite interesting and intelligent, yourself included. You make many good comments that I learn a lot from; and actually, since we are talking on a given strand, I think your point to Bruno has real merit. I don’t particularly agree with your view, but I can see the core point underneath the unhelpful sarcasm and misuse of puncuation. As for our exchange on the Cigar article, I thought you were totally socially inappropriate although you might have been technically correct about Cigar’s actual ranking in the pantheon of great 20th century American racers. So, correct in terms of content but inappropriate in terms of genre and social respect.

            So all of this is really to say, that I find you to be a good commenter that I enjoy reading and has good insight; but you also tend to be really nasty, sarcastic, and demeaning in the way you talk to people. Someone of your obvious intelligence and wit should expect more from their own comments.

          • kyle

            I appreciate the fence-mending effort. I think you’re under a bit of a misapprehension, though. Those I engage in an aggressive manner, like Bruno, are, without exception, big boys who don’t deserve to get away with a lot of nonsense. Your take on the Cigar thing is wrong. I said only that I thought he was overrated – a greater story than he was a horse. I was the one who was attacked. Re-read the opening of Ray’s story about Cigar that you loved. His take and mine were actually not dis-similar. It may be you are missing some nuance at times. Keep that in mind. But again, thanks for the comment.

          • davidinD

            My comment to you about the quotations was totally pedantic and I’m glad you called me out on it, but nuance is my business, and I don’t think I missed it on the Cigar piece. I actually agree with you and Ray in the assessment of Cigar’s ability (I’ve said that repeatedly), what I was saying to you was that the story socially functioned like a eulogy and (as you know) it is socially inappropriate to critique within a eulogy. (I tried to look back but I can’t find our strand; was it deleted?)

            Anyhow, the Paulick Report is one of very few places where you actually get some intelligent and thoughtful comments going. Unlike the major news outlets – which seem to attract the most idiotic, misinformed, and vitriolic people – this site has a relatively respectful discussion. I wish everyone thought of this as a giant digital coffee shop where we are all respectful yet firm and thoughtful yet generous. Since we all invest a lot of time in reading and commenting here, I sort of feel like we are a big family that should agree to disagree on things (like our’s on the Cigar piece) but really truly show each other reasonable respect. That’s my major gripe here and (in retrospect) I should have just ignored your comment on the Cigar piece because I am obviously over invested in this site. Like I said before, I think you are a good commenter but wish you would keep your wit but temper your edge; but then again ‘to each their own.’

            Best to you Kyle.

          • kyle

            David, here’s some deep background on this debate you might find edifying. The SDS (Synthetic Derangement Syndrome) crowd, represented here by Bruno, has been wrong at every turn starting with Andy Beyer’s seminal rant following The 2007 Blue (search:Andy Beyer 2007 Blue Grass; then for a more prescient take search DRF letter to the editor on the same subject). They then misunderstood Curlin’s Classic defeat, got the Zenyatta-Rachel Alexandra debate completely wrong, while consistently misunderstanding the betting public and mis-representing the racing facts.

          • davidinD

            That’s all very interesting. I’m guessing you were the writer of the DRF letter to the editor in response to Beyer’s rant? Kyle Newcomb, Delmar NY? Thanks for pointing me to it.

            So what do you think of the new dirt track this fall? I’ve only closely handicapped one day’s races (the opening) at Keeneland and it seemed reasonably balanced with the opportunity for a range of horses to get their trip.

          • kyle

            It’s a brand new dirt track built by a first class organization. Nobody has a problem with the track, per se. It’s what the switch from poly has meant for racing and gambling, especially the latter. And the adverse effect it has had is reflected in the handle numbers. The weather excuse is laughable. The old surface was all-weather, so rain didn’t affect the main track fields and turf races that came off stayed together. The fact is synthetic racing is good racing. But you would never know that by reading and listening to the speed figure/industrial complex.

    • Garrett Redmond

      Is this “Hi Tech” main track NOT a synthetic? Please explain the scientific, subtle difference to a simple-minded man.

      • Racingwithbruno

        Synthetic is fake, plastic, its like margarine to butter. Synthetic is silt, carpet fibers, wax, some kind of benzene product, rubber that is highly volatile to cold and hot temperatures. On a hot day the synthetic could heat up up to 150 degrees and in cold weather freeze and become rock hard. On synthetic, a horse’s foot when landing in the surface would stick, no slide, no give, just plant, hard and not move. On dirt a horse’s foot front and back would slide enough to relieve the blow of hitting the surface and then pushing off. Try it yourself, go on a plastic turf and try to plant and cut or push off, then go on real grass or dirt. Same as turf fields create a lot of toe issues in the NFL, synthetics caused similar problems. Keeneland track has hi tech drainage, new methods and ideas with a indigenous dirt, sand, clay and silt. main tracks must have organic materials to keep the bounce in the track, just dirt isn’t enough. I hope this answers your question

    • davidinD

      Keeneland really does do things right; ‘racing as it should be.’

  • Racingwithbruno

    One question for Ray or even Jim Goodman, as there been a comparison with handle numbers from NYRA for the same time period? They have had as much rain and off turf events….if so, how did it stack up with Keeneland?

  • PTP

    Woodbine (up 11% this month with Keeneland down & up 28% since 2008) and Keeneland (up 15% since 2008, more since 2006 when they added the fake stuff) have thrived. Not because of “people love polytrack”, but because they can run more races, with more horses, in bad weather and in good weather. And as their field size goes up, favorite win percentage goes down (Keenland’s dirt this meet has over 40% chalk) racing gets more interesting to bet, and well, people bet.

    Racing makes things harder than it needs to be. Put on an interesting betting race, people bet. Put on chalk laden, small field, easy to handicap races, and they don’t.


    • SteveG

      I agree with you that in a pari-mutuel environment, the bigger the fields, the bigger the pools & the higher the percentage of casual money in the pools leads to more value opportunities. However, Keeneland wanted to host a BC & that wasn’t going to happen on an all-weather surface.

  • dispute92

    I have asked these handicapping specialist, Bruno included, how they were handicapping these races over the new dirt surface at Keeneland,since I was there and struggling. No response.
    I therefore tried my best, in vain, to figure it out. Had heard it was similiar to Churchill, which I do poorly with as well. My whole group that goes to Keeneland in the fall are not stupid handicappers. Yet, we all struggled. We had the polytrack down. Speed didn’t always work and closers had a chance. At times, closers made some noise but nothing seemed true to form on this new surface. There was a breakdown while we were there and I haven’t seen any reports on injuries during races or workouts. I could have just missed them when in print.
    Some trainers that we always see at Keeneland were noticeably absent. Shug for one. Not sold yet on the new surface. Handicappers love speed which was one reason why they hated the polytrack. Exercise riders liked it (that i spoke to) said the horses trained over it like floating on air. Keeneland installed their polytrack properly. Just look at all the pictures they posted during the process. Yes, I read how diligently they worked on this new surface but not crazy about it.
    I hated their original dirt track. All speed, as has been noted. My first visit there during that drit era wasn’t fun gambling wise. This trip wasn’t fun either, gambling wise. Their fan appreciation though, is still the best in the US.

    • Kyle

      Makes sense that Dispute would be highly attuned to Shug’s presence or lack thereof.

      • dispute92

        Ha…you remember her? Sad she wasn’t buried with her mom at Claiborne. She earned a spot there no matter who owned her in the end. Made my day no matter what you thought of the post. Shug was just one that came to mind since he usually does well there.

        • kyle

          I agreed with you.

          • dispute92

            Thank you. I thought you did…but wasn’t sure when I read the Dispute comment as it could have been directed in the other way. :)

  • Dan Jividen

    A lot of this conversation seems premature to me. Keeneland has had only eight race days so far. It has been so wet in the Bluegrass so far this meet the only conclusion I’ve been able to come to is that the track appears to drain well. But it looks sticky. Some of those horses come back with about a dozen pounds of mud coating them. It’s supposed to clear up this weekend. Let’s see how it plays Saturday and Sunday.

  • John McEvoy

    What about the fact HRTV is not carrying this Keeneland meeting? Or that some OTBs are not doing the same because of unpublicized contractual squabbles?

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