by Greg Reinhart, HANA member
Sitting in Lexington, Ky., is Keeneland Race Course, which was HANA’s top-rated track among the 65 racetracks in North America. Keeneland is an important venue for Thoroughbred racing as not only do they host two of the most prestigious meetings of the year, including grade-I events like the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes, the Ashland, the Darley Alcibiades, and the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity Stakes, they also host several important yearling and mixed sales. Keeneland has a 1 1/16-mile Polytrack oval and a 7 1/2-furlong turf oval.
"It’s a distinct honor for Keeneland to be recognized as the number-one rated track on the continent by the Horseplayers Association of North America," said Keeneland president Nick Nicholson. "We’ve very gratified to know that our efforts to promote large, quality fields, a wide variety of wagering options and a reasonable takeout rate have been recognized by an organization that represents a broad cross section of horse players. Keeneland is enthusiastic about the future and we’re committed to getting even better."
Keeneland is a track which is constantly striving to improve its product and is not content to rest on its laurels or simply maintain the status quo. One example of this effort is the Keeneland Web site, which is a valuable source of information and presented in a manner which allows information to be customized to the needs of the individual player.
Most recently, the fall 2008 meet marked the debut of Keeneland’s "Polycapping Database," which provides players with an online database of detailed information on all the winners since the current Polytrack surface was installed. October 2006 marked the debut of the Trakus System, which instantaneously tracks each horse during a race and provides a wealth of information not previously available in traditional charts. The detailed race information that is compiled by Trakus is available on the Web site as a resource. Keeneland is currently exploring ways that Trakus technology can be greater utilized to improve the accuracy of other handicapping data points such as workouts as well as incorporating Trakus information into the Polycapping Database.
The takeout rates for Keeneland are very competitive in relation to other tracks, especially its trifecta, superfecta and pick-6 wagers, and as such, provide a solid value for horseplayers. Keeneland has been known for taking proactive stance on takeout. Keeneland also provides solid wagering value by offering not only 10-cent superfectas, but also 50-cent pick-4s and 50-cent trifectas.
In 2001, Keeneland experimented with a reduction of takeout to 16%, which was met with stiff resistance as several tracks and their affiliated OTBs shut out its signal in response. Keeneland (as well as other Kentucky tracks) are at a risk of losing their competitive advantage if a takeout increase is imposed by the state to cover the costs associated with the implementation of new integrity legislation. One goal is to have the increased cost of such integrity regulation funded through a cut of future VLT revenue instead of raising takeout.
Keeneland also has a relationship with the Television Games Network (TVG), which allows members of that service to wager on the track. In addition, during the two meets, TVG usually has several members of their network on hand to conduct interviews, offer handicapping tips, and promote what’s going on there. If a person does not have TVG or can’t get to a television, Keeneland itself offers free live streaming video and free race replays on its Web site.
Keeneland rated high on field size, where it ranked as the second-highest track. Average field size is one area in which Keeneland has improved since it switched to Polytrack in 2006, since the surface is perceived to play fairer then the prior conventional dirt track, which had a reputation for having an inside early speed bias. In addition, over the past few years, both the trainer and jockey colonies have improved and become increasingly competitive. The combination of these factors has both make Keeneland a bit more challenging to handicap, but also present the opportunity for lucrative payouts to those who correctly analyze a race.
The combination of full competitive fields with strong jockey and trainer colonies, along with attractive takeout rates and a festive environment, makes Keeneland a winning combo for horseplayers and as such is a deserving recipient of the number one ranking.
(Editor’s note: The views and rating system are expressly those of the bettors’ advocacy group Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA), and not affiliated with Blood-Horse Publications.)