09/28/2009 11:00PM

Keeneland tries to ease traffic jams

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland Racecourse has redesigned its traffic and parking patterns in an attempt to alleviate the chronic problems that tens of thousands racegoers typically have encountered at its race meets.

Track president Nick Nicholson, addressing an informal gathering at a media breakfast, said Tuesday that Keeneland had focused this summer on making the logistics of traffic and parking substantially more efficient. Keeneland, which begins its three-week fall meet Oct. 9, is one of a handful of remaining North American tracks to attract sizable ontrack crowds during its meets, and traffic congestion can be a nightmare on more well-attended days.

Nicholson said a possible master-plan renovation involving the world-class architectural firm, HOK Sport, zeroed in on traffic and parking as turn-offs for customers.

"They said, 'You're not in control of your parking lots!' " Nicholson said, laughing heartily as an old black-and-white photograph of a Keeneland parking snafu was displayed via PowerPoint. "This kind of stuff has been going on for decades."

The fall meet will begin with a slightly later post time than normal, as Keeneland tries a twilight-card experiment that has come into vogue at some racetracks in recent years. First post Oct. 9 will be 2:15 p.m. Eastern, whereas post time for the rest of the 17-day meet, which runs through Oct. 31, is 1:05 p.m. Nicholson said Keeneland might offer similar twilight cards on selected Fridays at future meets.

The meet will begin, as usual, with the three-day FallStars Weekend, a front-end packaging of major stakes designed as preps for the Breeders' Cup. Nine graded stakes, including five Grade 1's, are set for the Oct. 9-11 weekend.

Keeneland has served for the last two weeks or so as a filming base for the Disney movie, "Secretariat," which is scheduled for release in October 2010. Keeneland will be portrayed as Belmont Park, where Secretariat raced to his historic 31-length triumph in the Belmont Stakes in June 1973.

Much of the Keeneland grounds was strewn with tents and other physical clues as to the ongoing filming. Two key players from the movie, character actor James Cromwell and executive producer Bill Johnson, spoke briefly at the breakfast.

Several days of tributes are scheduled for the fall meet, including Oct. 15, when Pierre "Peb" Bellocq, the longtime Daily Racing Form artist, will be honored. Nicholson said "a special announcement" will be made on Peb Day.