Keeneland concluded its 2019 Spring Meet on Friday with robust attendance and wagering results driven by outstanding racing with full fields of top-quality horses. The Spring Meet also featured distinctive special events to benefit the local community and horse industry as well as enhanced food and hospitality offerings.
For the first time in 60 years, Keeneland opened its Spring Meet on a Thursday, a day earlier than usual, with a special celebration featuring a 3 p.m. post time, the inaugural Palisades Turf Sprint and the popular Central Bank Thursday Night Live, held for the first time at Keeneland.
On-track attendance for the 16-day meet, held April 4-26, totaled 242,547 compared with 250,475 recorded during last year’s 16-day Spring Meet. Keeneland was closed Easter Sunday, which fell on April 21. Average daily attendance of 15,159 was just shy of last year’s 15,655.
Keeneland showcased blockbuster days of racing featuring multiple graded stakes on the first two Saturdays of the meet that, when coupled with warm spring weather, attracted crowds in excess of 34,000 people. The 34,775 fans that enjoyed Toyota Blue Grass Day, April 6, marked a record opening Saturday crowd. The following Saturday, April 13, Keeneland welcomed 34,527 people to celebrate Coolmore Jenny Wiley Day.
On-track attendance was among a number of records shattered at Keeneland on Toyota Blue Grass Day. Single-day all-sources handle for the 11-race card totaled $25,809,200, eclipsing the previous record of $22,634,861 set last year on Toyota Blue Grass Day. The All-Stakes Pick Five handled $1,079,197, well above the former record of $899,196 set on the same day in 2018. The single-race exacta pool totaled a record $1,300,591, and the single-race win-place-show pool was a record $2,068,406. The daily double pool that day was a record $249,934.
“The extraordinary support and sense of pride the Central Kentucky community demonstrates time and again for Keeneland are truly gratifying,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “Keeneland’s success is a team effort with contributions from horsemen, sponsors, media partners, local businesses and hospitality, staff, and most of all, our loyal fans. They are the reason we strive to create the most memorable racing experiences possible for each of our guests.”
All-sources wagering on Keeneland racing totaled $153,116,119, down 2.58 percent from last spring’s $157,172,604. Average daily all-sources wagering was $9,569,757 versus $9,823,288 in 2018.
On-track wagering this spring was $16,490,636, down 5.54 percent from last year’s $17,457,750. Average daily on-track handle was $1,030,665 versus $1,091,109 last year.
Spring Meet Racing Highlights
Keeneland offered record average daily purses of $770,618 this spring, up 7.84 percent from 2018 to rank among the richest in North America, attracting Thoroughbred racing’s most talented trainers and jockeys.
Keeneland expanded its 2019 Spring Meet stakes schedule this year to include two new stakes, both $100,000 turf sprints, for a total of 18 stakes worth a season record $4.6 million in purse money.
Five graded stakes were carded for opening Saturday, anchored by the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G2) and $500,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1), major preps on the Roads to the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), respectively. Vekoma was an authoritative winner of the Toyota Blue Grass, earning 100 points to establish himself as a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby. Out for a Spin won the Central Bank Ashland to rank among the top point earners on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard.
In other Spring Meet highlights, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (L) winner Bulletin made a successful season debut in the opening-day Palisades Turf Sprint.
Rushing Fall earned her fourth Keeneland stakes victory with a win in the Coolmore Jenny Wiley (G1) on April 13 to tie her with Take Charge Lady for the second highest number of stakes wins at Keeneland behind only Wise Dan’s seven stakes victories.
Jockey Javier Castellano notched six stakes wins during the Spring Meet, just one shy of Pat Day’s record seven stakes wins accumulated during the 1998 Fall Meet. Castellano dominated opening weekend, recording wins in the Palisades Turf Sprint with Bulletin, Kentucky Utilities Transylvania (G3) aboard Avie’s Flatter, Madison (G1) on Spiced Perfection and Toyota Blue Grass with Vekoma. His winning streak continued the following week when he won the Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) on Delta Prince and Coolmore Jenny Wiley with Rushing Fall.
“We owe a huge thanks to our horsemen; the level of racing at Keeneland this spring was exceptional,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “And the competition isn’t limited to the equine stars. The convergence of the nation’s leading owners, trainers and jockeys at Keeneland in the spring makes for a spirited race for meet leader honors, which always seem to go down to the wire on closing day.”
Spring Meet Special Events Support Keeneland’s Philanthropic Mission
As a complement to the spectacular racing, Keeneland offered a full slate of special events that benefited the horse industry and the Central Kentucky community.
Keeneland hosted three fundraising events in support of jockeys. Current and retired riders participated in a jockey autograph session on opening day that raised $6,740 for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF). Keeneland also was a host site for the second TVG-PDJF Telethon on April 7 that netted $250,000 in donations from fans who were able to speak with Hall of Fame jockeys and TVG personalities. A second jockey autograph signing on Horses and Hope Pink Day, April 25, raised $3,552 for the Shantel Lanerie Breast Cancer Foundation.
More than 2,500 students registered to participate in the popular College Scholarship Day on April 5, which offered $30,000 in scholarship money, including two $10,000 Runhappy Scholarships and $1,000 scholarships awarded after each of the day’s 10 races. Jim and Linda McIngvale, owners of champion Runhappy who stands at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky, make the Runhappy Scholarships possible. Keeneland hosts College Scholarship Day in partnership with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. The event has distributed nearly $380,000 at Keeneland since it began during the 2002 Fall Meet.
Thousands of fans had their commemorative Maker’s Mark bottle signed by players from the University of Kentucky’s 2011-2012 national championship men’s basketball team as part of Maker’s Mark Day on April 13. Proceeds from sales of the 2019 bottle, the fifth and final commemorative Maker’s Mark® bourbon bottle in the series, benefit UK’s Center for Academic Tutorial Services (CATS), the first center of its kind in America.
Keeneland honored active and veteran military members and their families during Military Day at the Races Presented by Marathon on April 14. In honor of Month of the Military Child, Keeneland hosted activities for children throughout the day. Also featured among the many special presentations was the unfurling of a 40’ x 60’ American flag on Keeneland’s main track.
Spring Meet Leaders
The race for Spring Meet leading owner, trainer and jockey titles remained undecided until the final races on closing day.
Four owners tied for leading honors with three wins each: Kirk Wycoff’s Three Diamonds Farm (winner of the Dixiana Elkhorn-G2 with Bigger Picture); Kosta Hronis’ Hronis Racing (winner of the Limestone Turf Sprint with Ginger Nut [IRE]); Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms; and Robert J. Edwards Jr.’s e Five Racing Thoroughbreds (winner of the Coolmore Jenny Wiley with Rushing Fall). It was the first Keeneland leading owner title for each.
Wesley Ward recorded 11 wins to capture his fifth leading trainer title at Keeneland. Ward previously won titles in the Spring 2018 (tie), 2017 and 2012 and in the Fall of 2012. Among his wins this meet was a victory with The Mackem Bullet (IRE) in the Appalachian (G2) Presented by Japan Racing Association.
Brad Cox notched 10 wins and Chad Brown won nine races to finish second and third, respectively, in the trainer standings. Cox won the Stonestreet Lexington (G3) with Owendale. Brown won Coolmore Jenny Wiley with Rushing Fall and the Hilliard Lyons-Baird Doubledogdare (G3) with Electric Forest.
Florent Geroux earned his second leading rider title with 15 wins. He previously won in the spring of 2018. Geroux’s total was boosted by three-win days on April 13 and April 19 and included a victory in the Stonestreet Lexington with Owendale.
Three jockeys – Javier Castellano, Tyler Gaffalione and Luis Saez – tied for second in the standings with 14 wins each. Castellano won the aforementioned six stakes during the meet and recorded three-win days on April 6 and April 12. Gaffalione’s victories were highlighted by a three-win day on April 18 and victories in the Appalachian with The Mackem Bullet and Dixiana Elkhorn with Bigger Picture. Saez enjoyed a three-win day on April 10 and won the Beaumont (G3) Presented by Keeneland Select aboard Fancy Dress Party.