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Keeneland at 75: From rural to global
Keeneland’s motto – “Racing as it was meant to be” – is apt, but it only tells part of the story. Through its 75 years, Keeneland has grown from the Keene family’s breeding and training farm to an institution of international scope, and not just for its spring and autumn race meets. Keeneland remains a haven for central Kentuckians eager to “picnic with us and thrill to the sport of the Bluegrass,” as founding president Hal Price Headley once put it. As an auction house, Keeneland helped make Kentucky a center for international equine commerce. It now plays host to four major public Thoroughbred auctions a year – including the world’s largest Thoroughbred yearling sale in September – that gross several hundred million dollars annually. As a civic and industry leader, Keeneland has provided more than $18 million for local and Thoroughbred industry causes, from an electron microscope for the University of Kentucky (1947) to polio vaccines for local children (1955) to groups specializing in retiring and retraining racehorses for new careers (today). And, thanks to the Keeneland library, it maintains one of the world’s largest collections of Thoroughbred racing and breeding information. The keystone is the Daily Racing Form archive, dating back to 1896.
The library, too, started as a smaller concern. In 1939, three years after Keeneland’s inaugural race meet, trustee and director Arnold Hanger donated Robert James Turnbull’s 2,300-volume Turf collection to Keeneland. From that seed, the library now houses more than 10,000 books, 100,000 publications, and 225,000 photographic images, as well as videos, art, and racing-related artifacts.
We have drawn on that trove to bring some of Keeneland’s many historic moments back to life, with all their original color and vigor.
March 1, 1935
Major Louie Beard presents a plan to build a new Lexington racetrack to business leaders at the local Optimist Club.
“The new track is to be built from the ground up and it is the hope of those who are promoting it and giving of their time and efforts gratis, that it may be financed entirely by the sport-loving people of the Blue Grass. It is not possible to estimate the cost of the plant until a site has been selected, but the figures on same now run from $250,000 to $450,000. It is hoped to have two race meetings a year, one in the spring, preceding the racing at Churchill Downs, and another the latter part of October, when Central Kentucky is at its best. The meetings are to be run for sport and sport only, and officered by men who will give their services gratuitously.”
− The Thoroughbred Record
Keeneland’s founders accepted John “Jack” Keene’s proposal to buy 147 1/2 acres of his property. The Keeneland Association paid Keene $130,000 in cash and $10,000 in preferred stock, the first time that a parcel of that land was deeded outside the Keene family.
Oct. 11, 1936
Keeneland plays host to an open house attended by thousands of people in advance of a nine-day meet.
“The many visitors began arriving early in the morning, and a steady stream of automobiles passed into the beautiful property until nightfall. The visitors inspected every detail of the plant, paying particular attention to the operation of the electric totalizator, the first such apparatus installed in this section of the country.”
− Daily Racing Form
Oct. 15, 1936
John Hay Whitney’s Royal Raiment, a gray 2-year-old filly ridden by Johnny Gilbert, wins Keeneland’s very first race. Myrtlewood wins the first stakes, the Keen Handicap.
“Eight thousand persons cheered Myrtlewood as she turned in another brilliant performance in cleverly winning the Keen Handicap as Keeneland made its debut among America’s race courses this afternoon. Enthusiasm was at its highest pitch as the beautiful non-profit sharing course offered its first program and, as Myrtlewood returned to the scales from her scintillating effort in the $2,000-added dash of six furlongs, she was treated to a great ovation. The crowd jammed the grandstand and smartly appointed clubhouse and overflowed into the spacious lawn space.
“Myrtlewood’s triumph in the Keen Handicap was her sixth score of the season in a stakes event and brought $1,780 additional to her owner, Brownell Combs, local sportsman. The four-year-old daughter of Blue Larkspur − Frizeur carried the staggering impost of 128 pounds and ran the six furlongs in the excellent time of 1:10 4/5, showing that the Keeneland course is destined to be one of the fastest in the country.”
− Daily Racing Form
April 20, 1937
Seven famous Thoroughbred geldings are paraded at Keeneland: 1929 Kentucky Derby winner Clyde Van Dusen; 1924 and 1925 Horse of the Year Sarazen; 1928 champion handicap horse Mike Hall; 1927 American Grand National winner Jolly Roger; Merrick, who won 61 of 208 starts; 1927 Kentucky Derby runner-up Osmand; and American mile record-setter Cherry Pie. The same day, Keeneland president Hal Price Headley sets about correcting another American record − all part and parcel of smoothing out the new Keeneland track.
“Great interest was displayed by Keeneland’s patrons today in the show of famous geldings, six of which were paraded before the first race with the colors up. Merrick, because of his advanced age of thirty-four years, was displayed only at the paddock.
“The crowd was swelled by numerous cameramen and photographers, who came out especially to record the display of the famous geldings, which collectively earned $861,280 in their careers and such races as the Kentucky Derby, International Special, Grand National Steeplechase, Metropolitan Handicap, Agua Caliente Handicap, and Fairmount Derby.”
− Daily Racing Form
“Surveying instruments having discovered that the distance is forty feet less than a full half-mile with all of the shortage in the first furlong, Keeneland officials today revised records for the four races run over the Headley chute course since the opening of the meeting.
“The discovery deprives Shandon Farm’s speedy young Dickerville of the honor of sharing with Donau and Amon, the American record of 46 1/5 for a half-mile over a course having a turn. Dickerville was clocked in that time while winning the first race of the meeting. And, at that time, Keeneland officials believed the distance negotiated by the Shandon star to be a full four furlongs, but when the winners of subsequent races over the same course also turned in exceptionally fast time, though none duplicated Dickerville’s performance, H. P. Headley, Keeneland’s president, ordered the distance re-checked.”
− Daily Racing Form
April 25 , 1938
Keeneland conducts its first auction. The sale-topper, at $3,500, is Marmitina, a 9-year-old mare (and her suckling colt) bought by E.F. Woodward.
W. Arnold Hanger donates 2,300-volume Robert Turnbull collection to Keeneland, starting Keeneland library.
April 10 , 1943
Keeneland cancels its race meetings because of wartime shortages of gasoline and rubber, but an agreement between Keeneland president Hal Price Headley and Churchill chief Col. Matt Winn allows Keeneland racing to continue at Churchill Downs until the end of the war. Winn leased the entire Churchill facility to the Keeneland Association for a 10-day meet. Cost? “A dollar bill.” reported The Blood-Horse.
May 27 , 1943
Jack Keene dies at age 77.
“A few impressions about John Oliver (Jack) Keene: He could growl more than any man I ever knew, but under his skin he was a very kind and sympathetic person. To hear him tell it, those in charge didn’t do anything right when they altered his original plans in the building of Keeneland racecourse, but I believe one of the biggest thrills of his entire life was the success of the Lexington track’s inaugural meeting. On closing day of that meeting in the fall of 1936, I saw a horseman approach him and tell Mr. Keene what a grand thing he had done in starting construction of the track. A big smile swept over his face and he replied something to the effect that ‘America has got a real race track now.’ ”
− The Blood-Horse
Aug. 9-11, 1943
Keeneland stages its first summer yearling auction after wartime shortages cancel Saratoga’s annual race meeting and Fasig-Tipton sale. The auction eventually becomes Keeneland’s July sale.
Calumet dominates Keeneland’s spring stakes when Coaltown wins the Blue Grass and Phoenix, Fervent takes the Ben Ali, and Bewitch the Ashland.
“One morning last week, before the dew was off the bluegrass at Kentucky’s Keeneland track, a bay colt broke and ran. Stop watches ticked away. The naked eye could tell what the watches verified: that the bay colt was really covering ground. Coaltown worked five furlongs in the fastest training time – :58 2/5 – ever run at Keeneland. Warren Wright’s Calumet Farm, which seems to have a monopoly on racing’s fastest horses (Armed, Bewitch, Citation, Fervent, and Faultless), had developed another.
“Just how good is Coaltown? Bookmakers had already made him No. 2 in the Kentucky Derby winter book. Said trainer Ben Jones, casually: ‘A nice colt, but he hasn’t had the experience. Citation is the greatest horse in the country.’ No man to hedge his bets, Ben also trains Citation, the even-money favorite to win Kentucky’s greatest horse race on May Day.”
− Time Magazine
Jones was right. Coaltown set a track record of 1:49 1/5 in Keeneland’s 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass Stakes, but Citation wore down Coaltown’s lead in the 1948 Derby and went on to win the Triple Crown.
Oct. 18, 1956
After William Woodward Jr. sells his great racehorse Nashua to a Kentucky syndicate led by Spendthrift Farm owner Leslie Combs II for $75,000, Combs and partners parade the horse at Keeneland.
“Nashua, the world’s leading money-winning Thoroughbred, made his final public appearance here this pleasant afternoon, as a crowd of more than 9,000 paid him homage.
“The big horse was brought on to the track and walked slowly by the clubhouse and grandstand, then was galloped once around by Eddie Arcaro before breezing a brisk quarter-mile in 23 under Leslie Combs II’s silks through the stretch. When the handsome son of Nasrullah and Segula stepped along the throng gave him a great cheer.
“In infield ceremonies after Nashua’s gallop, the honorable Shelby Kincaid, mayor of Lexington, presented the colt’s owners with a key to the city. Keeneland president Duval A. Headley then gave Combs, a member of the syndicate purchasing Nashua, a gold trophy. Trainer James Fitzsimmons and jockey Arcaro also received gold julep cups, suitably inscribed for the occasion.
“Through it all Nashua acted the gentleman, receiving his honors and the plaudits of the crowd in a stately manner.
“Nashua will be vanned to his new quarters at Spendthrift Farm this evening, bidding adieu to active campaigning on the turf.”
– Daily Racing Form
The following January at Keeneland’s breeding stock sale, Stavros Niarchos paid a record $126,000 for Nashua’s dam, Segula.
April 25, 1957
Round Table wins the Blue Grass Stakes by six lengths in a record-shattering 1:47 2/5.
“Ralph Neves enjoyed a rocking chair ride through the stretch and was never in the slightest danger from the time they turned into the lane for home. This is a colt who could be dangerous in Louisville,” Daily Racing Form reported.
“He did it with Derby weight up, too,” assistant trainer Jack Williams told Joe Hirsch. “Mr. Kerr and I talked to (trainer) Willie Molter last night and tried to kid him, saying that the horse was badly beaten. But he wouldn’t buy that because he had an open telephone wire from California to Lexington and heard the calls and the fractions.”
But Round Table did not win the Kentucky Derby. In the race, jockey Bill Shoemaker infamously misjudged the finish line, allowing Iron Liege to beat Shoemaker’s mount, Gallant Man.
March 22, 1962
Hal Price Headley, Keeneland’s founding president, dies of a heart attack at age 73.
“Several years ago in response to a request by Johnny ‘Trader’ Clark to name the outstanding example of combined breeder, owner, and trainer of Thoroughbreds the late Col. Phil T. Chinn replied, without hesitation, ‘Hal Price Headley.’ As an afterthought he further stated, ‘Headley is the only man I know who could always toss a silver dollar in the air and have it come down gold.’
“Keeneland came into being during a most difficult period of history from an economic standpoint. The early 1930s were not years of plenty but of uncertainty. I doubt that any man, other than Hal Price Headley, could have so successfully brought Keeneland to a reality instead of a dream.”
− W. T. Bishop, The Thoroughbred Record
Oct. 10, 1963
Lamb Chop, the eventual champion 3-year-old filly, sets a record in a Keeneland allowance over about seven furlongs, then comes back Oct. 17 to take the Spinster Stakes by 11 lengths.
Oct. 16, 1965
Unbeaten in five races, Claiborne homebred Moccasin scares off all but three rivals in the Alcibiades and easily wins en route to being named champion juvenile filly and co-Horse of the Year with Roman Brother.
“Claiborne Farm’s Moccasin scored a bloodless, betless coup in the $37,735 Alcibiades Stakes here this afternoon, winning by 15 lengths over Mrs. Moody Jolley’s Chalina, who nosed out Walnut Hill Farm’s Hurry Star in the four-horse field. Bwamazon Farm’s Persian Melody was another 20 lengths back in the smallest Alcibiades field since Doubledogdare won the stakes for Claiborne in 1955.
“Moccasin completely dominated the running, she was just a half-length in front at the first quarter but (jockey Larry) Adams looked back under his right arm going to the far turn, and then rapped Moccasin a couple of times left-handed at the furlong pole, all in the interest of ‘education.’
“Adams said later: ‘I hit her left-handed just to get her accustomed to the whip.’ ”
− Daily Racing Form
Keeneland hires its first female usher, Barbara Martin, a University of Kentucky animal science student and former Arlington Park usher.
“Keeneland might be the last to admit it, but the fairer sex finally has infiltrated that longtime bastion of masculine prides and prejudices.
“Clubhouse patrons are startled this fall to find a young blonde stationed in the track’s entrance hall to give directions, aid clubhouse guests in locating reservations, and to check badges. She is Miss Barbara Martin, Keeneland’s first usherette, who comes to work clad in the customary Keeneland blazer draped over a skirt. . . .
“On the grandstand side of Keeneland, women also have quietly infiltrated the mutuel department, the backbone of the track’s financial operation. About four years ago the wife of the assistant mutuel manager, Mrs. E. J. Hall, timidly suggested that she fill in at the windows whenever a shortage of men should occur. To her surprise, she became the first woman in Kentucky to work in the mutuel department.
“Keeneland now employs seven women at the windows and longtime mutuel operators generally agree that women are an improvement over men who have grown old, flat of feet and sometimes cross from years of traveling from track to track.”
− Lexington Herald
April 27, 1972
Meadow Stable’s homebred champion Riva Ridge wins the Blue Grass and goes on to win the Derby and Belmont.
“The outcome of the Blue Grass undoubtedly served to reduce somewhat the size of the Kentucky Derby field, a process that will be continued during the following few days in Louisville with the running of the Derby Trial and Stepping Stone. It also established Riva Ridge once and for all as a solid favorite for the Derby, but then, that’s a whole new ball game. Still, ‘This colt does what he has to do to win,’ Lucien Laurin has said. Ron Turcotte echoed that sentiment several times after the race, and followed it up with a most quotable quote. When asked how he liked his mount’s chances for the future, Turcotte replied, ‘How would you like them?’
“Fine, thanks, and for the moment at least, there isn’t much else you can say.”
− Paul Murray, The Thoroughbred Record
July 20, 1976
Keeneland sells its first million-dollar horse when a Canadian partnership spends $1.5 million for a yearling colt from Secretariat’s first crop, later named Canadian Bound.
April 27, 1978
Calumet’s homebred Alydar stamps himself the Derby favorite with a 13-length win in the Blue Grass Stakes, though he goes on to finish second to Affirmed in each Triple Crown race.
“He filled the eye with his robust chest, his ample girth, and his powerful quarters, took no notice of the crowd and walked easily around the ring as if around the shedrow on a normal, quiet morning at the barn.
“He brought pleasure to so many Thursday, but to none more than Adm. and Mrs. Gene Markey, who had never seen their colt run. Keeneland sent a station wagon for them to Calumet Farm, just a few hundred yards down the Versailles Pike, and they were driven to trackside, opposite the eighth pole. They were assisted from the wagon to stand at the rail during the post parade for the Blue Grass, and when [jockey Jorge] Velasquez left the line of horses and walked Alydar up to them, so that they could see him, it was a touching moment.
“As the field turned for home, the Markeys, both in the 80s, were assisted from the wagon a second time and they stood at the rail as Alydar flashed past to a resounding triumph. Gov. Julian Carroll made the trophy presentation in the infield to trainer John Veitch and jockey Velasquez, and then the three men walked to the station wagon where the Markeys, seated once more, accepted the handsome Blue Grass cup which Calumet had won five times before. Mrs. Markey clutched the trophy to her with one hand, while the other was clasped firmly by the Admiral.”
− Joe Hirsch, Daily Racing Form
Construction expands the sale pavilion built in 1969, and just in time for the 1980s bloodstock boom. In 1980, Stavros Niarchos pays $1.7 million for a Lyphard colt, a world record that Robert Sangster breaks the following year for a $3.5 million full brother to Storm Bird. Prices continue to rise, and world records fall, until the market’s peak in 1985.
July 18-19, 1983
In a world-record bidding duel with his main rivals, Robert Sangster and Coolmore, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum goes to $10.2 million for the future Snaafi Dancer, who, in the end, never made a start and was infertile to boot.
“Robert Acton, manager of Shaikh Mohammed’s Aston Upthorpe Stud, wandered over to the Sangster side of the pavilion and stood, talking to friends. When the Northern Dancer colt entered the sale ring, there was a crush of persons seeking a better viewing position. In the swirl, Acton found himself standing within an arm’s length of the main Sangster group.
“He exchanged glances with members of the Sangster group, then said in a matter-of-fact voice: ‘There’s no use in your bidding, actually. We’re going to get the colt.’
“Shaikh Mohammed, looking ahead without expression on his side of the partition, showed no sign of wavering. Each time Sangster offered a bid, Col. Warden (acting for the Shaikh) would increase it immediately.
“At $8 million, the Sangster caucuses became more urgent, with tension showing on faces and Sangster pressing his partners to hold firm. He later said that he had to increase his own commitment to the partnership package to win an agreement to go to $10 million.
“Acton looked on as the Sangster group debated the issue in front of him, and offered his counsel.
“ ‘You’re never going to beat us,’ he said. ‘Why try?’
“After another series of increases, Sangster took the bid to $9.5 million. Shaikh Mohammed, leaning on a wooden divider, did not remove his gaze from the bidding board. (Personal assistant John) Leat nodded to Warden to go ahead.
“Warden lifted his eyes upward. He exhaled and murmured, ‘Jesus Christ,’ as he bid $9.6 million.
“Sangster’s group hesitated slightly before playing its final card, running the bid to $10 million. A small delay ensued as Keeneland, for the first time in its history, was forced to recycle its seven-figure bidding board back to zero.
“When the board was ready to start the second trip around, the Shaikh was, too. Warden bid $10.2 million.
“Sangster sought to rally his forces for one more effort, urging on them the thought that $10.5 million would do it.
“Phonzie O’Brien advised to the contrary.
“ ‘It doesn’t make any difference. They’re not going to quit,’ he said. ‘We’re going to lose.’ ”
− David Heckerman, The Blood-Horse, July 23, 1983
Oct. 11, 1984
Queen Elizabeth II visits Keeneland. During her appearance, she watches recently imported 1984 Epsom Derby winner Secreto walk in the paddock and presents the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. She watched the race from the Lexington Room, then descended to the winner’s circle to present the trophy to winner Sintra’s connections.
“Back then at Keeneland, we did not have a winner’s circle. For regular races, we’d simply have the clerk of scales draw a chalk circle on the track surface, and the brief congratulatory ceremony would take place there. But after a stakes race was run, people were to walk across the track for the trophy presentation, and it didn’t matter whether rain, snow, or sleet was falling or how thick or gooey the track surface was. If you were the winning owner or trainer or had been invited to make the trophy presentation, you had to walk across, even if it meant wading through a swamp.
“Well, the British and U.S. Secret Service, not surprisingly, suggested to us that it wouldn’t really be appropriate for the Queen to do something like this and said that, for a number of reasons involving security and so forth, they’d prefer to have her present the trophy on the grandstand side. And this is why we finally, in Keeneland’s forty-ninth year of existence, constructed a winner’s circle. We did it so Queen Elizabeth II would have the proper setting to present the trophy for the stakes race that was named in her honor.
“At luncheon, Lucy (Bassett’s wife) and I sat with the Queen. Our table also included the great banking magnate, horse breeder, and art collector Paul Mellon, who was a friend of hers, and Keeneland trustees W.C. Smith and Charlie Nuckols, Jr. The Queen was on my immediate right, and on her immediate right was Charlie, and at one point during the luncheon, when there was a lull in conversation, I leaned over to and said to Nuckols, “Charlie, did you ever think that two old rednecks from Woodford County would ever be sitting next to the Queen of England?” The Queen chuckled, but Charlie wasn’t quite so amused and replied, ‘Speak for yourself, Ted.’ ”
− Ted Bassett, Keeneland’s Ted Bassett: My Life, by Ted Bassett with Bill Mooney
July 23, 1985
Sangster and his Coolmore Stud partners set a world-record price, bidding $13.1 million for Seattle Dancer, a half-brother to Seattle Slew. It remains a yearling world record today, and it was a world record Thoroughbred auction price until 2006, when Coolmore’s $16 million bid for 2-year-old Green Monkey topped it.
April 7, 1990
Jockey Randy Romero sets the record for most wins in a day with six winners from seven mounts. Romero went on to earn the riding title with a record 32 wins, a mark that lasted until 1995, when Pat Day won 45 races in the fall meet. On April 18, 1990, Craig Perret equaled Romero’s one-day winners feat with six winners from seven mounts.
Oct. 6, 1990
Bayakoa wins her second consecutive Spinster Stakes and later earns back-to-back older mare championship titles.
April 4, 1997
To address the expansion of simulcasting, Keeneland hires NASCAR announcer Kurt Becker to be its first racecaller.
“A long-standing tradition of silence was broken at Keeneland with the introduction of the track’s first announcer on April 4. Talking over the loudspeaker, however, was kept to a minimum, with Kurt Becker describing the race action but doing little else. His calls were informative, containing few flourishes, and the response to his low-key style was mostly positive, with fans describing him as ‘genteel’ and ‘tasteful.’
“‘I’m not really against it, but Mr. [Hal Price] Headley has turned over in his grave,’ said 85-year-old Margaret Karsner, referring to one of Keeneland’s founders. She has attended the races at the track since its inaugural meeting in 1936.
“The main complaint was that Becker was difficult to hear. Keeneland officials responded with plans to make adjustments to the sound system.
“ ‘I sense that his tonal quality was good,’ Dogwood Stable president Cot Campbell said, ‘but I didn’t understand anything that he said. I’m sure they’re trying to be very subtle, but if we’re going to have him, I think they ought to let him be a little louder.’ ”
− Deirdre Biles, The Blood-Horse
April 23, 1999
Making his final career start at 11, Lonesome Glory becomes the oldest runner to win the Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings, a Grade 1 steeplechase over 2 1/2 miles. The only five-time Eclipse award-winning steeplechaser, Lonesome Glory was ridden by Blythe Miller, whose father, F. Bruce Miller, trained the gelding
April 19, 2000
Pat Day rides first-time starter Unbridled Time to win the day’s second race and becomes Keeneland’s all-time leading jockey with 717 victories. That passes Don Brumfield’s mark, which had stood since 1972.
Sept. 11, 2001
The terrorist attacks prompt Keeneland to cancel the second select session of the September yearling sale.
“As television monitors around the sale pavilion and barn area flashed images of the burning World Trade Center and the smoking Pentagon on Sept. 11, Keeneland officials decided to delay the start of the auction by an hour. Then, after the horror continued to mount, they postponed the session until the following day and moved back the rest of the sale accordingly. ‘It’s more about humanity than it is about business,’ said Keeneland president Nick Nicholson, after delivering the announcement from the auction stand. ‘We didn’t enjoy making the decision, but we think it is the right thing to do. It wasn’t appropriate to have a horse sale on a day when so many people have suffered.
“When the auction resumed on Sept. 12, the mood was grim. The session generated some of September’s strongest figures ever, but the drama and excitement were muted. No one clapped when the horses brought big prices. The auctioneers stopped cracking jokes. After the Coolmore team won the fight against Sheikh Mohammed for the $6.4 million Storm Cat colt, John Magnier declined to discuss the victory.
“‘We are visitors in this country, and we don’t feel it would be appropriate to comment on horses,’ said the Irish bloodstock magnate.”
− Deirdre Biles, The Blood-Horse
Keeneland puts its famous Keeneland July yearling sale “on hiatus” as the market emphasis shifts to the September yearling auction, now the world’s largest and highest-grossing yearling sale.
Oct. 10, 2004
Azeri captures the Spinster Stakes in her only start at Keeneland. The 2002 Horse of the Year goes on to finish fifth in Ghostzapper’s BC Classic and retires with $4,079,820 in earnings, 17 wins, and three older-mare championships. In 2009, after failing to sell on a $4.4 million final bid in January when owner Michael Paulson decided to buy her back, she brings $2.25 million in November from Japanese buyer Katsumi Yoshida.
Nov. 7, 2005
Champion Ashado fetches $9 million, a world record for a racing or broodmare prospect, at the Keeneland November auction. The buyer is Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum.
Sept. 12, 2006
Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum pays $11.7 million for a Kingmambo-Crown of Crimson colt later named Meydan City. Thirty-two yearlings at the sale fetch bids of $1 million or more, fueling across-the-board records at the two-week Keeneland September auction, which grosses $399,791,800 and rings up a $112,427 average and a $45,000 median.
Oct. 6, 2006
Keeneland debuts its new $8 million Polytrack synthetic racing surface, and Louis Lee Haggin III’s Lordly wins the day’s first race.
“Keeneland’s association with Polytrack began on April Fool’s day several years ago.
“A racing official, Rogers Beasley, tuned in a race from Lingfield Park in England, then rushed into (Keeneland president Nick) Nicholson’s office to tell him to watch.
“ ‘It was one of these English downpours,’ Nicholson said. ‘It was raining so much you could barely see from the camera to the horse. And yet the track was exactly the same. I’ve never seen anything like it. And that was like, ‘Wow, we’ve got to learn more about that.’
“Keeneland installed a Polytrack test strip and left it alone for a year.
“After a fierce ice storm near the end of the test period, ‘This place was a mess,’ Nicholson recalled, saying hundreds of truckloads of limbs had to be carted away. After a couple of days, Keeneland officials checked the Polytrack strip.
“‘It was like nothing had ever happened,’ Nicholson said.”
− Greg Hall, Louisville Courier-Journal
“This afternoon, very expensive and carefully bred thoroughbreds will compete on the most modern surface in racing at one of the most traditional tracks in the nation, if not the world.
“As the horses race around the oval, they will be the first in this country to be tracked individually by a digital system called Trakus Video Race Technology that will tell bettors exactly where they are during the race.
“These changes would be admirable anywhere but are truly remarkable at Keeneland Race Course, which only nine years ago finally broke its own tradition by hiring an announcer to call the races.
“This matters here in Lexington, where we have more riding on the success of the thoroughbred industry than any other place in the world.
− Lexington Herald-Leader
Dec. 6, 2010
Zenyatta, the only female ever to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, parades at Keeneland before retiring to her broodmare career at nearby Lane’s End Farm. Despite temperatures in the teens, more than 1,000 fans show up for the informal nighttime ceremony that takes place in the walking ring behind Keeneland’s sale pavilion. Later, Zenyatta will be voted 2010’s Horse of the Year over Blame, who ended the 6-year-old mare’s 19-race winning streak in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“The cold didn’t chill her fans’ ardor. Almost two hours before Zenyatta’s arrival, the vestibule of Keeneland’s sale pavilion was packed with visitors, mostly women and girls, who formed a loose line to sign a guestbook. Already fans scattered around the sale pavilion, huddled in the warm bar to snack on popcorn and soft drinks. Among them, there was no debate over who should be - or to them, who already is - Horse of the Year. There was no debate in the back walking ring, either, where by the time Zenyatta did her dance steps into the walking ring, crowds had swelled five and six deep. One mother brought her 3-year-old son, dressed up in a miniature set of the Mosses’ racing silks. ...
“ ‘The horse is absolutely my inspiration,’ said Bonnie O’Neill, who drove from New York with her husband, John, to see Zenyatta one last time. ‘My husband got unemployed, and she sort of got us through the whole thing. That was a couple of years ago, and we really started following her. I bet on all her races, and she’s the only one I ever bet on, and we built up a nice, cool little Zenyatta fund.
“ ‘Also, the way people talked about her, that she was competing in lesser races,’ added O’Neill, who first got interested in racing after seeing Secretariat run. ‘They were diminishing her perfection. I went to a smaller school, and I had a straight-A average, and I experienced the same kind of thing. So those are the personal reasons. But, beyond that, she’s the greatest racehorse I’ve ever seen.’”
− Glenye Cain Oakford, Daily Racing Form