10/20/2011 12:02PM

Keeneland shows solid gains in handle, attendance


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Keeneland hit the midpoint of its 17-day fall meet Wednesday with business bucking national trends by showing increases in both all-sources handle and ontrack attendance.

Through Sunday, the eighth day of the meet, all-sources handle totaled $71 million for an average of nearly $8.9 million per program, up more than 9 percent over comparable figures for the 2010 fall meet. Attendance was averaging more than 17,500, up more than 12 percent over last year.

Sensational weather and terrific racing surely helped the cause, as fans were able to enjoy sunshine and warm temperatures while seeing a slew of major stakes, including highly competitive renewals of six Grade 1 races, during the first two weekends of action here. Wagering trends nationally have shown steep downturns over the last several years, including the last two months (August and September) in particular.

“I don’t remember ever having more than 60,000 people here on back-to-back weekends like we did the first two this fall,” said Nick Nicholson, who has served as Keeneland president since 2000. “Moreover, the national wagering constituency has responded very enthusiastically to the large fields and the quality racing. They really seem to be enjoying our product this October, and that’s exciting to see, good to see.”

Ontrack handle, including imported simulcasts, totaled more than $11.8 million for an increase of 2 percent during those first eight days, the latest available for release.

Keeneland runs through Oct. 29.

Bridgmohan nearly ready to ride

Shaun Bridgmohan hopes to return to riding by opening day at Churchill Downs, Oct. 30, after recovering from a broken collarbone sustained last month in a spill at Kentucky Downs.

Bridgmohan, 32-year-old native of Jamaica, was out of the country this week but was expected back no later than Sunday, when he will begin exercising “a couple horses here and there” in the mornings at Churchill, according to his agent, Anthony Martin.

“Shaun broke the collarbone pretty bad, but it’s finally coming around for him,” said Martin. “Hopefully we’ll be all set by opening day.”

Bridgmohan was injured during the running of the Sept. 10 Kentucky Cup Turf when his mount, Formaggio, fell suddenly approaching the far turn. Bridgmohan has won 2,260 races since he began riding in 1997.

Dowager attracts a dozen

While the Sycamore had to be transferred Thursday to Polytrack because of weather, its filly and mare counterpart, the $125,000 Dowager, figures to stay at 1 1/2 miles on the turf when it is run Sunday for the 20th time. A field of 12 is entered.

From the rail, this is the field for the Dowager: Cheetah, Senada, Grecian Maiden, Malibu Win, Hasay, Royal Madame, Miss Laa Di Da, Endless Expanse, Speak Easy Gal, Upperline, Askbut I Won’ttell, and Dyani.

After the Dowager, just one stakes remains on the fall schedule: the Grade 2, $150,000 Fayette on closing day.

Newsdad crushes distance record

The Polytrack surface has yielded faster-than-normal times for much of the meet, a fact borne out again Wednesday when Newsdad lowered the track record by nearly two full seconds when winning a first-level allowance race at the rarely-run distance of 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.61.

Newsdad, a 3-year-old Arch colt trained by Bill Mott, was exiting a series of graded turf stakes in prevailing by 5 1/4 lengths.

Five days earlier, Applauding, a 2-year-old filly making her career debut, broke the record for six furlongs in 1:07.76. Polytrack became the main racing surface here in the fall of 2006.

Football less of a distraction

In some prior years, a noon kickoff for a University of Kentucky home football game at nearby Commonwealth Stadium might have taken away significantly from the ontrack crowd at Keeneland. But with the Wildcats struggling as badly as they are – they have lost their last four games amid what is unfolding as a dismal season – there may not be much impact on Saturday attendance here.

This week, Kentucky plays host Jacksonville State, a football subdivision program. UK then hosts conference rival Mississippi State for a 7 p.m. game next Saturday following Keeneland’s closing-day card, giving sports fans their lone chance this fall at a “Bluegrass Doubleheader.”

◗ With weather in this region being so nasty Wednesday and Thursday, workouts for Breeders’ Cup hopefuls were quite limited here and at Churchill. Morning activity can be expected to pick up substantially over the weekend, when drier and warmer conditions are in the forecast and trainers will be looking to get in major breezes in the two-week-out period toward the Nov. 4-5 races.