04/25/2004 11:00PM

Keeneland sets records


Spurred in large part by high-class racing and exceptional weather, records for attendance and handle were broken at the 15-day spring meet that ended Friday at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

Attendance records were established for both a single season and for daily average. Total attendance was 232,826, narrowly eclipsing the previous high of 232,499, set during a 17-day season last fall. The average of 15,522 was 13 percent above last year and surpassed the previous best of 14,649, set during the 2001 spring meet. Six days this meet drew crowds of more than 20,000, including an all-time record of 31,028 on April 17. Records also were set for highest attendance on a Friday (April 16) and a Sunday (April 18).

Ontrack wagering totaled an all-time record $28,010,988, a figure that includes imported simulcasts. The previous record was nearly $27.6 million, set last fall. Average ontrack handle was a record $1,867,399, an increase of 13 percent over last spring.

All-sources wagering totaled more than $136.1 million to average slightly more than $9 million per day, up 12 percent over last year. Counting simulcast imports, the total handle exceeded $142.5 million, topping the previous record of $134.8 million set at the 2002 spring meet.

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson attributed the upsurge mostly to outstanding racing, successful promotions, and terrific weather. "Everything fell into place during the spring meeting," said Nicholson.

On the racetrack, Pat Day captured his 22nd Keeneland riding crown by winning 21 races, six more than Shane Sellers. Day, who for many years rode primarily at Oaklawn Park during the month of April, now has won four spring titles and 18 fall titles at Keeneland.

Steve Asmussen, with nine wins, won his first Keeneland training title, while one of Asmussen's top clients, Bill Heiligbrodt, tied for leading owner with Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Each had five wins.

The richest race of the meet went to The Cliff's Edge, who won the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 10, giving Sellers his third win in the Grade 1 event. Other notable winners included Madcap Escapade in the Grade 1 Ashland, Quintons Gold Rush in the Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington, and Midway Road with a track-record performance in the Grade 3 Ben Ali.