10/15/2014 3:06PM

Handle, attendance down at Keeneland

Keeneland Photo
Attendance for Keeneland's fall meet has fallen 19 percent compared to last year.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Betting figures and attendance so far during the fall meet at Keeneland have plummeted when compared with last year’s record results, according to figures supplied by the track.

Poorer weather than last year probably is playing a large role in the drops, but other factors, including a new dirt surface and a drop in field size partially attributable to fewer horses shipping in from tracks with artificial surfaces, also are contributing to the declines.

Though officials cautioned that it is too early to call the drops a trend, especially considering the weather, the numbers are sobering. Total attendance through eight days of the 17-day meet has dropped 19 percent, according to the figures, while all-sources handle is down 9 percent. Ontrack handle is down 14 percent.

Keeneland has experienced far wetter and far cooler weather than last year, which has held down attendance figures. In addition, attendance on both Saturday cards has been negatively affected by the resurgence of the University of Kentucky football program. UK has played home games on both Saturdays of the meet, and last Saturday’s home game started at 12:30 p.m.

Keeneland replaced its artificial surface with a dirt track prior to the opening of the fall meet, after eight years racing on Polytrack, an all-weather surface. The change led to uncertainty over how the track would play among handicappers and has negatively affected the amount bet on the track’s races, according to Jim Goodman, Keeneland’s director of mutuels.

“Even if we had everything equal with last year, we still thought we’d be down early because of the change in the track,” Goodman said. “Especially early on, when players didn’t have any feel for it. This is a brand-new track.”

Goodman also acknowledged that a drop in field size, from 9.7 horses per race last year to 8.7 horses per race this year, has contributed to the declines. During this year’s fall meet, it’s been rare to see horses shipping in from Woodbine or Presque Isle Downs, two tracks with artificial surfaces. Horses from those two tracks commonly entered races at Keeneland last year, at approximately 10 horses a card.

The wet weather has led to more races being taken off the turf and more scratches in the main-track races than last year. During meets with an artificial surface, horses very rarely scratched when it rained.

“It’s way too early to say this is a trend,” Goodman said. “This could turn around in a week, especially if we start getting better weather.”