01/23/2009 12:00AM

Pair of stakes, $600K cut from Keeneland meet

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Keeneland Race Course has released the stakes schedule for its 2009 spring meet with a number of substantive changes, most notably an overall reduction of $600,000 in purses.

Two races, the Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings and the Lafayette Stakes, were dropped from the spring meet, which runs April 3-24. In addition, the purse for the Commonwealth Stakes was reduced from $400,000 to $250,000; the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes has gone from $500,000 to $400,000; and the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes from $250,000 to $150,000.

Rogers Beasley, director of racing at the Lexington, Ky., track, said the cuts in stakes purses were attributable to a major decline in sales revenues, combined with a loss in race sponsorships and the general economy. Unlike at other tracks, the purse structure at Keeneland is largely supported by its other business, horse sales, which have slumped badly since the yearling sales in September.

On the positive side, the purse for the Vinery Madison, which recently was upgraded from a Grade 2 to Grade 1, has had its purse increased from $100,000 to $300,000. Also, the purse for the meet showcase, the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, remains at $750,000, while overnight purses will continue at the same level as in recent years, including $50,000 maiden races. As usual, purses have been projected to average about $600,000 per program, among the highest in North America.

Fifteen of the 17 spring-meet stakes are graded. The peak of the meet will be the three-day stretch from April 9 to 11, when three Grade 1 events will be run on consecutive dates: the Vinery Madison, the Maker's Mark Mile, and the Blue Grass.