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Keeneland’s 2012 spring race meeting proved to be an enormously successful finale for President Nick Nicholson, posting several records for attendance and wagering and boasting field sizes that are among the largest in the country. More importantly, it also marked the sixth consecutive spring meeting in which there were no catastrophic breakdowns during racing on Keeneland’s all-weather main track.
“I believe our success directly correlates to our dedication to safety,” said Nicholson. “Providing the safest environment possible for our equine and human athletes is something we strive to do each and every day. Safety is a significant part of everything we do and I think it is resonating with our fans.”
During this spring’s 15-day meeting, attendance totaled a record 269,292, for an average of 17,953 per day. These figures eclipse the previous records of 250,163 in total attendance and daily average of 14,715 set during last fall’s 17-day meeting.
In a first, Keeneland carded 12 races on Toyota Blue Grass (G1) Day on April 14, resulting in a record single-day all-sources handle of $21,647,378, compared to the previous record of $19,246,840 set on April 14, 2007-also a Toyota Blue Grass Day when 10 races were carded. Other mutuel handle records set this spring include:
• Largest single-day attendance-40,617 fans attended this year’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes Day, April 14, crushing the previous record of 33,821 set on Saturday, April 21, 2007;
• Single Race Wagering Record-$1,925,900 was wagered on the Toyota Blue Grass; the previous record was $1,924,646 wagered on the Toyota Blue Grass on April 14, 2001;
• Largest Exacta Pool-$1,180,893 wagered on the Toyota Blue Grass, surpassing the previous record of $1,138,124 wagered on the Toyota Blue Grass in 2008;
•Largest Super High Five Pool-$81,032 wagered on Wednesday, April 11, compared to $74,542 wagered on April 15, 2011.
Nicholson announced plans to retire on September 1. Nicholson has been the President and CEO of Keeneland since 2000 and is widely credited for guiding Keeneland through some difficult times-including multiple industry downturns caused by two global recessions and the outbreak of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome. Despite those setbacks, Nicholson ushered in a number of innovations, including a major track renovation and the installation of an all-weather surface on its main track in 2006-a move that made Keeneland one of the safest, most modern racetracks in the world.
“It has been a wonderful tenure for me here at Keeneland and I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of an organization that is so well
respected in the community and in the industry,” Nicholson said. “And because we have a such strong, cohesive team in place, I leave knowing Keeneland is in great hands.”
Nicholson will be succeeded by Keeneland’s current Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Bill Thomason.
Dullahan became the first horse since Round Table in 1957 to win the Breeders’ Futurity (now the Grade 1 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity) and go on to win the Blue Grass. Owned by Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing, Dullahan outdueled favorite and reigning two-year-old champion Hansen in a thrilling stretch run to win Keeneland’s signature Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race.
Morton Fink’s Wise Dan won the $150,000 Ben Ali (G3) on Sunday, April 22, setting a 1 1/8-mile track record in the process.
Jockey Julien Leparoux was the meet’s leading jockey with 23 wins, earning his fifth spring meet title and his eighth title overall. On Friday, April 20, Leparoux tied a longstanding record when he won six races on the card. He now shares that record with jockeys Randy Romero, who won six races on April 7, 1990 and Craig Perret, who won six races on April 18, 1990. Leparoux has 279 career wins at Keeneland and ranks fifth on the list of the track’s all-time leading jockeys.
“It’s always special,” Leparoux said. “It’s Keeneland, so it’s great to win a meet here.”
Ken and Sarah Ramsey dominated the owner standings with 7 wins, including a victory with Lonesome Street in the $175,000 Commonwealth (G2). This was the 10th Keeneland leading owner title for the Ramseys, who have now won five spring titles (2004 [tie], 2006, 2010 [tie], 2011, and 2012) and five fall titles (2000 [tie], 2002, 2007 [tie], 2008 and 2009).
Trainer Wesley Ward notched his first training title at Keeneland with nine wins. Ward earned two stakes victories with Gypsy Robin in the
$150,000 Beaumont Stakes (G2) and longshot All Squared Away in the $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (G3).
“Just to win a race here is unbelievable,” Ward said. “I come from humble beginnings, and eventually made it to win some races at some of the major meets. Words can’t describe it.”
“This has been a strong meet with great racing,” said Vice President of Racing Rogers Beasley. “We are proud that the top two Kentucky Derby horses raced here and another Derby contender worked here before heading to Churchill Downs for the remainder of his training. We also wish to thank the owners, trainers, jockeys and fans who are such an important part of our meets. We appreciate their loyalty and look forward to seeing them in the fall.”