Keeneland wrap-up: Fall meet concludes with on-track attendance the second-highest in history

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Keeneland successfully closed its 2017 Fall Meet on Saturday, one that featured 17 days of superlative racing and unique special events that combined to produce the second-highest Fall Meet attendance in track history and solid wagering results.

On-track attendance for the Fall 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.

“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 the Fall Meet totaled $17,597,035, just shy of last year’s $17,793,419. 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. Average daily all-sources handle of $7,159,571 dipped 8.4 percent from last year’s $7,819,866.    

“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.”

Special Events Offer Fun and Philanthropy

In keeping with its mission to support the Central Kentucky community, Keeneland hosted a number of special events during the meet that exemplified its philanthropic goals.

Keeneland celebrated the 10th anniversary of Make-A-Wish Day on Oct. 12, teaming with local Thoroughbred farms and organizations to grant wishes for 10 deserving children, who, along with their families, enjoyed a VIP day at the races. In partnership with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, Keeneland on Oct. 20 hosted College Scholarship Day, which attracted thousands of college students and gave away $20,000 in scholarship money, including a $10,000 Runhappy Scholarship. Prominent active and retired jockeys mingled with fans during an autograph session on Oct. 13 that raised $6,005 for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF).

Heroes Day Delivered by Papa John’s on Oct. 22 honored active and veteran military members, first responders and their families. The day marked the culmination of a three-week fundraising effort by Papa John’s and Keeneland that contributed $28,840 to Supporting Heroes, which honors the service and sacrifice of public safety heroes who give their lives in the line of duty by caring for their loved ones.  

For the Fall Meet, Keeneland created a Twitter handle, @BetKeeneland, that featured a Handicapper of the Day series. Each race day, Keeneland gave a guest handicapper a $200 bankroll to wager with winnings to be donated to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. From those winnings, Keeneland raised $5,595 for the PDJF.

Santana-Albarado fist bump (Photos provided)

Handicapping Tournaments Produce BCBC/NHC Challenge Participants

Keeneland offered a handicapping tournament doubleheader this fall, introducing the Keeneland Fall Challenge on Saturday, Oct. 14, followed the next day by the BCBC/NHC Challenge, the richest handicapping contest of the Fall Meet. The Keeneland Fall Challenge, a $400 buy-in tournament, drew 252 entries and was won by Nick Tammaro from Houston.

The BCBC/NHC Challenge, a $3,000 buy-in tournament, drew 164 entries and awarded spots in the BCBC and NHC in addition to cash prizes. Tom Maloof from Middleborough, Massachusetts, amassed a final bankroll of $13,004 to win the BCBC/NHC Challenge. In addition to his bankroll winnings, Maloof took home a $21,000 first-place cash prize, plus an all-expenses-paid berth to the $2.9 million (est.) National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) and a paid entry to the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC). The top 15 finishers earned cash from a $58,500 pool. The top six earned BCBC entries and the top 10 won NHC berths.

Meet Leaders and a Racing Milestone

Multiple Eclipse Award winners Ken and Sarah Ramsey continued their record-breaking pace, accumulating seven wins to earn their 19th leading owner title at Keeneland. The Ramseys are Keeneland’s all-time leading owners in terms of titles won (11 Fall Meet and eight Spring Meet) and number of races won (224). 

Runner-up honors went to G. Watts Humphrey Jr. (both alone and in partnership), John C. Oxley and Kirk Wycoff’s Three Diamonds Farm, who tied with four wins each. Humphrey won two stakes, the Juddmonte Spinster with Romantic Vision and the Buffalo Trace Franklin County (G3) with Morticia, both trained by George “Rusty” Arnold II. With horses trained by Mark Casse, Oxley captured two stakes, the Dixiana Bourbon with Flameaway and Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Presented by Lane’s End (G1) with La Coronel. Casse trained a third stakes winner, Darley Alcibiades victor Heavenly Love, for Oxley’s wife, Debby.  

Michael Maker outdistanced his peers with 13 wins to secure his fifth leading trainer title at Keeneland. He previously won in the Spring of 2016 and 2013, and Fall of 2013 and 2008.

Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen finished second with nine victories during the meet. Casse was third with seven wins, including the three aforementioned stakes wins.

The race for leading jockey played out in a stretch duel between Ricardo Santana Jr. and Robby Albarado in the seventh race on closing day. Santana won the race by a head to claim his first Keeneland riding title (see attached fist bump photo). His 20 wins were boosted by three three-win days during the meet. 

Albarado tallied 16 wins, including the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity with Free Drop Billy, to finish second in the standings. Albarado achieved a milestone on opening day when he became the third jockey to win 500 races at Keeneland, behind only Pat Day (918) and Don Brumfield (716). He scored his first Keeneland victory during the 1996 Fall Meet, and has been leading rider four times (Spring 2002, Spring 2003, Fall 2008 and Fall 2009).

Eclipse Award winner Julien Leparoux was third with 15 wins. Leparoux won three stakes this fall: Darley Alcibiades with Heavenly Love, Dixiana Bourbon with Flameaway and Lexus Raven Run (G2) with Miss Sunset.

From Keeneland

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