10/25/2014 7:48PM

Keeneland all-sources handle drops 12 percent at fall meet

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Keeneland wrapped up the first meet on its new dirt track Saturday with solid reviews from horsemen and a fair safety record – though the meet did post decreases in field size, handle, and attendance.

Keeneland removed its Polytrack main track surface – which debuted in fall 2006 – over the summer, replacing it with conventional dirt in time for the 17-day fall meeting that began Oct. 3.

The new track got a trial by fire – or rather, by water – to start its first meet. According to local weather reports, 3.72 inches of rain fell in Lexington from Oct. 3 through Oct. 20, with precipitation falling on 14 of those days. Drier weather only prevailed in the final four days of the meet.

“We thought we were living in Seattle the first 10 days,” said Keeneland vice president of racing W.B. Rogers Beasley. “There was not a day in the first 10 days when we didn’t have rain at least in the morning.”

Beasley also complimented the work done under the conditions by track superintendant Javier Barajas.

“Missed the synthetic track at Keeneland this meet, but very impressed with new dirt surface that handled some very wet days remarkably well,” Graham Motion, who tied for the meet’s training title, posted on his Twitter account Saturday evening.

Two horses suffered fatal injuries in races over the new track, both juveniles in the waning days of the meet - Burden on Wednesday and Shoe Jo on Friday. There was one racing-related fatality on Polytrack in 2013, Keeneland’s final full year on the surface.

Ontrack wagering totaled $17,625,834, a 3 percent drop from $18,173,355 during last year’s fall meet. The average daily ontrack handle was $1,036,814, also down 3 percent from $1,069,021 in 2013. All-sources wagering totaled $122,844,887, down 12 percent from $139,660,179 during the 2013 fall meet.

The average field size was 8.42 starters, down from 9.89 last year, a 15 percent difference.

“If you look at the figures across the nation, they’re down everywhere,” Beasley said. “They’re down at Belmont – handle is – they’re down at Santa Anita. I think that’s part of the national trend, to a degree.”

The new track and the weather may have played a role in those figures. During the meet, there were fewer shippers in from Woodbine and Presque Isle – tracks with synthetic surfaces which consistently supported Keeneland Polytrack racing. The wet weather also led to more races being taken off turf, and more scratches in the main-track races.

“The field size, we anticipated would be down,” Beasley said. “When the decision was made to switch from Polytrack to dirt, one of the minuses was going to be [it would affect] field size. … So that affects handle, as well.”

Ontrack attendance during the meet totaled 251,574, a 5.6 percent drop from the fall record of 266,466 established last year. The average daily attendance was 14,798, down 6 percent from last fall’s 15,674. In addition to the poor weather, a resurgent University of Kentucky football program also may have negatively impacted attendance. The Wildcats played home games on three of the four Saturdays of the meet, including a 3:30 p.m. contest versus top-ranked Mississippi State on closing day.

Rosie Napravnik, who piloted 16 winners, held off Corey Lanerie (15) and Julien Leparoux (14) to secure her second straight Keeneland fall meet riding title.

Motion and Todd Pletcher tied for the trainer title with eight wins apiece. It was the first meet title at any track for Motion. Pletcher was twice leading trainer at Keeneland’s spring meet.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey led the fall owner standings with nine winners, securing their third consecutive fall meet title. They have won or shared 14 Keeneland meet titles overall.