04/29/2016 7:34PM

Keeneland spring meet closes with strong gains in handle, attendance


Keeneland wrapped up its spring meet Friday with gains in attendance and handle, including single-day records in both of those categories.

“The momentum from last fall’s Breeders’ Cup carried forward to this spring and contributed to so many positives during this race meet,” Keeneland president and chief executive Bill Thomason said on closing day. “The loyalty of our fans and horsemen and the strong support of our corporate and media partners are very gratifying.” 

The total attendance was 262,197 for the 16-day season that began April 8, an average of 16,387. Attendance was up 4.7 percent from the 250,451 to attend the 2015 spring meet, while the average attendance was a slight dip from 16,697.

The highest attendance of the meet was a crowd of 38,863 recorded April 16. It was the third-biggest non-Breeders’ Cup crowd in track history.

The Keeneland meet posted average starters per race of 8.4, vs. 8.1 in 2015, and daily purses averaged $624,083, among the nation’s highest. Those factors helped spur double-digit gains in ontrack and all-sources handle. Ontrack handle of $17,974,896 outpaced last spring’s $16,142,325 by 11.4 percent. The average daily ontrack handle increased 4.4 percent from $1,076,155 to $1,123,431.

All-sources handle of $145,592,372 for the meet was up 23.8 percent from last spring’s $117,617,108. The average daily all-sources handle rose 16 percent from $7,841,141 to $9,099,523.

Keeneland registered a single-day handle record of $21,736,983 on April 9, when the card was anchored by the Blue Grass Stakes and Ashland Stakes, major preps for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, respectively. That day’s all-sources wagering included $20,805,455 handled on Keeneland’s 11 live races; $423,679 wagered on the Big Apple/Bluegrass Pick 4, a special event held in partnership with Aqueduct; and ontrack simulcast handle of $507,849.

The top two finishers from the Blue Grass, Brody’s Cause and My Man Sam, will move on to next week’s Kentucky Derby. Keeneland also could have an impact on the spring classic through unbeaten champion Nyquist, as his camp chose to base him at Keeneland, which still maintains a synthetic training track, as opposed to Churchill Downs. The likely Derby favorite turned in his final work for the spring classic on closing day.

"It's been great. We haven't missed a beat," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "The main track dries out really quickly, but still, you have the luxury of staying on schedule with this training track."

There were two fatal injuries to horses during racing hours, both on the main track, with Fancy Hat breaking down April 20 and Back in Dixie pulled up in the stretch of the Grade 3 Doubledogdare Stakes on April 22.

Javier Castellano edged Corey Lanerie, 17-16, for the meet riding title, which came down to the final day. This was the second consecutive spring-meet title for Castellano, whose lone stakes win at the meet came with Collected in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes.

Mike Maker secured the trainer title with 13 victories, including the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes with Da Big Hoss. He outpaced Wesley Ward, who saddled eight winners and dominated in the juvenile sector as Kentucky’s 2-year-olds were unveiled.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey, prominent clients for Maker, led the spring owners’ standings with nine winners, securing their fourth consecutive meet title at this track. They have won or shared 17 Keeneland meet titles overall, a record.

This was the final race meet as a Keeneland employee for W.B. Rogers Beasley, vice president of racing since 2001 and the company’s former director of sales. Beasley will retire June 30, Keeneland announced earlier this year.