04/03/2014 5:17PM

Keeneland April: Consignors, buyers react to Keeneland surface change for breeze show

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The conversion of the main track at Keeneland Race Course from its current synthetic Polytrack surface to dirt is likely to have far-reaching effects on the Thoroughbred industry.

One event that will be directly affected is the breeze show for the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale, which presumably held its final edition on Polytrack on Thursday. The breeze show has been held on the all-weather surface since 2007.

Keeneland is currently one of two North American sale companies to host its under-tack shows on an all-weather surface, along with Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co., at which juveniles breeze on Safetrack, a different synthetic blend.

Consignors and buyers offered a broad range of speculation as to the effect of the surface change on the Keeneland April sale.

“It’s hard to say,” said consignor Niall Brennan. “Obviously this year, with the smaller catalog and the higher number of scratches, it would be hard continue doing the same thing next year and expecting a different result. Now that there is going to be dirt, that does change the dynamic.”

Brennan said that he had no issues with Keeneland’s track under its current setup, noting that the Polytrack is consistent for the breeze shows and dramatically lessens the effect of weather on the footing.

However, he also said that giving sellers an option to show their horses over a quality dirt surface could offer some welcome variety on the sales calendar when some juveniles might be hitting their developmental sweet spots.

“The more demand that are on these 2-year-olds for the sales, the later the better for us,” he said. “It is obviously a little bit more natural time for them to be doing this come April, so timing is important. You’ve got the OBS April sale, which is on the synthetic surface, so now you’d have an April sale on dirt at Keeneland. It remains to be seen if more consignors would want to bring horses here next April because it’s back on dirt.”

Mark Casse, a leading trainer at Keeneland and Woodbine, which both feature racing on Polytrack, expressed concern that a return to dirt could result in a higher rate of injury after public workouts. More injuries, he said, lead to more scratches and lower prices for horses that come out of their breezes in less-than-pristine condition.

“I know one thing, if I was a consignor, I’d be a little concerned,” Casse said during the breeze show’s renovation break. “When we were having the pouring rain this morning, I was thinking, ‘If we were having the 2-year-old sale today and this was dirt, it might be a little scary.’

“It’s like being on an airplane,” he continued. “In normal weather, a weekend pilot is fine flying, but when the weather gets bad, you want to be with the veteran, and that’s how I compare the synthetic to dirt. On a good day, they’re probably pretty equal. On a bad day, the synthetic is superior.”

Becky Thomas of Sequel Bloodstock said she was a fan of the surface change. Like Casse, she said the true barometer of success in future editions would be the attrition rate between the breeze show and sale day.

“That’s the number that’s most important – what previews to what is out,” Thomas said. “The number of outs before we get to preview, there could be many reasons that they didn’t come to the sale. We need to look at the percentage of the horses that actually preview to what sells and that’ll give you an idea of how many buyers are here.”