Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Optimistic Amid Competitive Forces

The Kentucky racetrack will begin its spring meet April 6 with a strong card.

Keeneland will begin its spring meet April 6 with full fields and quiet optimism in what has become a very competitive Thoroughbred racing environment in terms of purse money and horse population.

Bolstered by a strong, horsemen-popular stakes schedule and a steady condition book that attempts to focus on higher-level maiden and allowance races, the Lexington track has managed to not only hold its own but maintain what Keeneland director of racing Rogers Beasley believes is “arguably the best racing in America in April.”

The 15-day meet, which runs through April 27, faces increased competition from New York, where Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park have boosted purses via video lottery terminal revenue.

“We’re certainly going to feel the effects of New York, there’s no question about that,” Beasley said April 3. “But Keeneland is special being a boutique meet. Trainers and owners love coming here to race their horses. And our purses are nothing to sneeze at.”

Keeneland traditionally pays over the contractual purse amount because of revenue from its auction business. Maiden special weight races will again run for $50,000, while the highest allowance race purse will be $67,000. The lowest purse, $17,000, is for open $10,000 claimers.

The opening day card of 10 races will average 10 horses per race according to the overnight sheet. The highlight is the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-olds, but there also are four allowance events—including one that attracted Capt. Candyman Can and Successful Dan—and two maiden special weight events, including the first 2-year-old race of the season in Kentucky.

Beasley said he expects some New York-based horses to pass through Central Kentucky on their way to Aqueduct and Belmont, but not as many as in previous years. There will, however, be the usual compliment of horses on their way to Woodbine in Canada.

“You’ll see a little difference but not enough to affect overall quality,” Beasley said. “The competition is there, but I think we’re doing a good job addressing the competition.”

Last spring Keeneland offered 142 races that attracted an average of 8.76 horses per race, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. Purses averaged $567,142 per day.

Field size in Kentucky is usually stronger in the fall at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and Turfway Park. Keeneland last fall averaged 10.17 horses per race and paid an average of $567,658 per day in purses.