Keeneland on April 23 closed its 2021 Spring Meet, which featured the return of a limited number of fans to the track, strong all-sources wagering fueled by quality racing led by champion Essential Quality’s win in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and an emphasis on community initiatives in furtherance of Keeneland’s philanthropic mission.
“We thank our fans, both near and far, the Central Kentucky community, our horseplayers, our corporate partners and our loyal horsemen for a fantastic racing season,” Keeneland President and CEO Shannon Arvin said. “Keeneland’s continued success is built on the contributions of many, and we extend our appreciation to all those who make racing at Keeneland such a memorable experience.”
In accordance with COVID-19 restrictions, only a limited number of fans were permitted to attend the races at Keeneland this spring. Attendance totaled 96,243, for an average daily crowd of 6,416.
Despite the limited capacity, fans on track and remotely enthusiastically wagered on the Spring Meet. All-sources wagering for the 15-day Spring Meet, held April 2-23, increased 7.55 percent to $164,680,229 versus the 16-day Spring Meet in 2019, when all-sources wagering totaled $153,116,119. (Keeneland canceled its 2020 Spring Meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Average daily wagering of $10,978,682 was up 14.72 percent compared to $9,569,757 during the 2019 Spring Meet.
Boosting total wagering was robust handle on Blue Grass Day, April 3, which featured six stakes worth $2.1 million on the 11-race card. All-sources wagering that day totaled $22,723,197 to be the third-highest single-day handle in Keeneland history. The Pick 5 handled a record $1,485,090, eclipsing the previous mark of $1,395,051 set on Toyota Blue Grass Day during the 2020 Summer Meet.
Limited attendance this spring resulted in total on-track handle of $9,224,273, for average daily on-track handle of $614,952. In comparison, on-track handle totaled $16,490,636 for the 2019 Spring Meet.
Spring Meet Racing Moments and Milestones
Average daily purses of $739,902 at Keeneland this spring ranked among the richest in North America and attracted the sport’s top trainers and jockeys.
Competitive racing was showcased in 18 stakes worth $4.1 million in purse money. Six graded stakes were carded for opening Saturday, anchored by the $800,000 Blue Grass and $400,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1), major preps on the Roads to the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), respectively.
Essential Quality kept his undefeated record intact in winning the Blue Grass, earning 100 points to establish himself as the top point earner and early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. With the victory, he became the fifth horse to win Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity at 2 and the Blue Grass at 3. The others are Brody’s Cause (2015-2016), Carpe Diem (2014-2015), Dullahan (2011-2012) and Round Table (1956-1957). Essential Quality also won the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland last fall.
Undefeated Malathaat won the Central Bank Ashland to rank among the top point earners on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard. The victory marked owner Shadwell Stable’s eighth graded stakes win here to earn a Keeneland Tray as part of Keeneland’s signature Milestone Trophy Program. Only 20 other owners have such an accomplishment at Keeneland.
Other notable achievements by human and equine athletes this spring:
· Raging Bull (FR) made a powerful move on the far turn and cruised to a 2-length victory in the $300,000 Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) in his third start in the prestigious turf stakes.
· Juliet Foxtrot (GB) led from gate to wire to win the Coolmore Jenny Wiley (G1) and leading owner Juddmonte’s 16thgraded stakes win at Keeneland. For the accomplishment, Juddmonte received a Keeneland Pitcher – another level of the track’s Milestone Trophy Program. Only three other owners have earned the Keeneland Pitcher: Claiborne Farm (Fall 1968), Bwamazon Farm (Spring 1983) and William S. Farish (Spring 2003).
· In his first mount of the Spring Meet, jockey Julien Leparoux recorded his 500th career victory at Keeneland. He became the fourth rider to reach that milestone, joining Hall of Famers Pat Day (918 wins) and Don Brumfield (716) along with Robby Albarado (526). Leparoux won his first race at Keeneland during the 2005 Fall Meet in his first season as a jockey. Since then, he has earned 12 leading jockey titles at Keeneland, most recently during the 2019 Fall Meet, and two Eclipse Awards.
· Trainer Michelle Lovell notched her first Keeneland stakes win and her 500th career victory when Change of Control won the Giant’s Causeway (L). Lovell began training in 2003.
“Keeneland sincerely appreciates the loyalty and support of our horsemen, not only this spring but throughout the challenging past year,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing Gatewood Bell said. “Our goal is to offer the opportunity for the best to compete against the best, which continues to produce thrilling performances and memorable accomplishments.”
Under the leadership of Equine Safety Director Dr. Stuart Brown, Keeneland continues to deploy rigorous safety protocols and measures to protect its horses and riders, which has resulted in no racing incidents this spring.
“We are proud of the collaborative effort between our horsemen, their attending veterinarians and the regulatory team that works with Keeneland to deliver on our time-honored promise of service to the horse in the area of safety,” Dr. Brown said.
Spring Meet Leaders
Keeneland-based Wesley Ward dominated the trainer standings, tallying 20 wins to secure his seventh leading trainer title to tie Henry Forrest for third place on the list of leading trainers by meet titles. Now with 201 career victories, Ward ranks seventh all time at Keeneland in the win category.
Ward’s four wins on closing day ties him with Kiaran McLaughlin, Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher for most victories for a trainer on a single day during the Spring Meet.
Ward won four 2021 Spring Meet stakes: Madison (G1) with Kimari, Shakertown (G2) with Bound for Nowhere, Beaumont (G3) Presented by Keeneland Select with Twenty Carat and Palisades Turf Sprint with Chasing Artie. The total equals the record for most Spring Meet stakes victories shared by Ben Jones (1948), Todd Pletcher (2011) and Chad Brown (2018).
With 19 career stakes wins at Keeneland, Ward is tied with Hall of Famers Carl Nafzger and Woody Stephens for 13th place on the list of the track’s leading trainers by stakes wins.
Finishing second in the trainer standings was Brad Cox with 10 wins, including the Toyota Blue Grass with Essential Quality, Coolmore Jenny Wiley with Juliet Foxtrot and Baird Doubledogdare (G3) with Bonny South.
Todd Pletcher finished with nine wins, highlighted by Malathaat’s win in the Central Bank Ashland and Jouster’s victory in the Appalachian (G2) Presented by Japan Racing Association, to rank third.
Among jockeys, Luis Saez recorded six multiple-win days during the meet to amass 29 wins and earn his first Keeneland riding title. Joel Rosario ranked second with 22 wins, riding three winners on closing day.
Saez and Rosario combined to win all nine stakes on opening weekend of the Spring Meet. On Friday, Saez rode Twenty Carat to win the Beaumont. On Saturday, he won four races topped by the Toyota Blue Grass on Essential Quality and the Appalachian on Jouster.
Rosario rode five winners on Blue Grass Day, including four consecutive stakes: the Commonwealth (G3) on Flagstaff, Shakertown (G2) on Bound for Nowhere, Central Bank Ashland on Malathaat and Madison on Kimari. On opening Friday, he captured two stakes: the Palisades Turf Sprint with Chasing Artie and the Kentucky Utilities Transylvania (G3) on Scarlett Sky.
Rosario joins Jerry Bailey (1999) and Javier Castellano (2016) as riders with a record six stakes victories during a Spring Meet.
Tyler Gaffalione finished third in the standings with 12 wins, led by his victory aboard Juliet Foxtrot in the Coolmore Jenny Wiley.
Juddmonte locked up their second Keeneland leading owner title with six wins, boosted by their aforementioned Milestone victory in the Coolmore Jenny Wiley with Juliet Foxtrot followed by Bonny South’s victory in the Baird Doubledogdare.
Kirk Wycoff’s Three Diamonds Farm, Bob Lothenbach’s Lothenbach Stables and Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables tied for second in the owner standings with three wins each.
Grade One Gamble Draws Record Field of Players
Frank Mustari of Chicago topped a record field of 248 players who competed at Keeneland and through XpressBet, TVG, NYRA Bets and 4NJBets to win the Grade One Gamble on April 10. Mustari took home a record first prize of $50,000, a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) at Del Mar and an entry in the 2022 National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas.
Spring Meet Celebrates Philanthropic Mission and Valued Partnerships
Keeneland continued to honor its mission this spring by teaming with sponsors and industry partners to support the community and the Thoroughbred industry.
Keeneland designated the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden as its featured charity for the Spring Meet. Located in Lexington’s historic East End, the Art Garden is on property owned by the legendary 19th century jockey. It is the first park in the U.S. to honor the earliest African American professional athletes: Thoroughbred jockeys. Proceeds from sales of the 2021 commemorative Maker’s Mark Bourbon® bottle in partnership with Keeneland were earmarked to benefit LexArts and for the placement of a permanent art installation by artist LaVon Van Williams Jr. and for future programming within the park.
Keeneland celebrated the 25th running of the prestigious Maker’s Mark Mile under the sponsorship of the world-famous bourbon distillery. Maker’s Mark also made a $10,000 contribution to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
Toyota, sponsor of the Blue Grass Stakes, and Keeneland made a $10,000 donation in support of Nourish Lexington, founded in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic to use displaced hospitality and food service employees to provide more than 160,000 nutritious meals for community members in need.
The Spring Meet also marked the 10th running of the Doubledogdare sponsored by Baird (formerly Hilliard Lyons).
Among the other philanthropic and community-oriented initiatives this spring were:
· Kentucky Utilities and Keeneland donated $5,000 to Black Soil KY to support and highlight their successful area programs. Keeneland collaborated with Black Soil KY, an agritourism social enterprise that fosters a greater market share for Black farmers in Kentucky, on two strategic initiatives during the Spring Meet: creating a locally sold Black Soil KY Skillet Frittata Meal Kit and incorporating local produce from Black Soil KY farmers and producers into Keeneland’s rotating dining menus.
· Keeneland and Country Boy Brewing of Lexington collaborated to create the Keeneland Spring Lager, with sales of the beer benefiting Blue Grass Farms Charities’ Back to School Backpack Program to provide supplies for nearly 1,000 children whose parents work in Keeneland’s stable area or on Central Kentucky horse farms.
· More than 1,700 students representing 35 colleges and universities in 15 states participated in Keeneland’s popular College Scholarship Day Presented by Lane’s End, held virtually on April 9. Students hada chance to win a total of $35,000 in scholarships and prize packages provided by local Lexington businesses. Lane’s End, Coca-Cola and Kentucky Thoroughbred Association were sponsors of the event.
· On April 11, fivelucky families won a day at the races as part of Kids Club Family Day Presented by Kentucky Children’s Hospital.
· Keeneland hostedMilitary Day Presented by UPS on April 18 that featured a POW-MIA Chair of Honor to raise awareness of past and current POWMIA military members through a partnership with The Rolling Thunder Kentucky Chapter 5. UPS and Keeneland contributed $2,500 to the POWMIA program.
On closing day, Keeneland honored track announcer Kurt Becker, who this spring reached a unique milestone as the only track announcer in Keeneland’s history. For 60 years prior to Kurt’s appointment, Keeneland did not have an on-track race caller. Then-president Bill Greely hired Kurt from more than 40 applicants, and he began calling the races on April 4, 1997. The Spring Meet marked Becker’s 25th Spring Meet at Keeneland.