Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Attendance Up, Handle Down

Great weather allowed Keeneland to set two single-day records during its spring meet.

Favorable weather played a key role in Keeneland ending its spring meet April 23 with one of its top five most well-attended spring sessions and the fifth-highest in the Lexington, Ky., track’s history.

Attendance was bouyed by two single-day records: a record crowd of 33,727 turned out for the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on April 10, and an opening-day record of 24,734, shattered the previous opening mark for a spring meet of 21,371 set in 1998.

“After what seemed to be such a long and unusually cold winter, I think Central Kentucky believed it was time for Keeneland and time for some fun,” said Keeneland president and CEO Nick Nicholson. “Indeed, the combination of great racing, great weather, and terrific special events made Keeneland the place to be in Central Kentucky this spring.”

Keeneland has exceeded 230,000 in total attendance for a spring meet five other times, all of which has happened since 2004, the first time attendance exceeded 230,000. Four of the top five attendance years have occurred since 2005.

Higher attendance, however, could not offset the lingering effects of the now waning economic depression.

On-track handle at Keeneland for the 2010 spring meet totaled $16,583,541, down 6.1% from last year’s $17,655,983. Average on-track wagering on Keeneland was $1,193,757, down from 7% from $1,282,922 in 2009. The all-sources handle for the 2010 spring meet totaled $100,335,369 compared to $108,548,058 in 2009, marking a decrease of 7.6%. Figures for all sources including whole card simulcasting will be available April 26.

Still, Keeneland officials were pleased with the meet overall.

“I think the success and fan interest here also underscore how compelling horse racing can be—and still is—even in the face of a challenging state and national economy,” Nicholson said.

Other highlights of the meet include a 2.7% increase in combined attendance for the meet’s two premier stakes—the Blue Grass, won by longshot Stately Victor whose victory earned him a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II), won by Wertheimer and Frere’s Exhi. Attendance for both stakes days totaled 63,146, which was up from 61,468 in 2009.

Keeneland paid $600,000 in average daily purses, ranking it among the highest in North America.

“The uniqueness of Keeneland’s meet—the quality of races, the size of purses and the ability to draw the attention of the racing world—allows us to attract many of the best trainers, jockeys and horses to Lexington each spring,” said Rogers Beasley, Keeneland’s director of racing.

Seven owners tied with three wins apiece to share leading owner honors—Ken and Sarah Ramsey; George Strawbridge Jr.’s Augustin Stable; W. Cothran Campbell’s Dogwood Stable; Stanley B. Seelig; G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and partners; Barbara Hunter and Wertheimer et Frere (Alain and Gerard Wetheimer).