LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keeneland successfully closed its unprecedented five-day summer meet Sunday with all-sources wagering of more than $63 million. Driving robust wagering were top-quality race fields representing the nation’s top stables and jockeys, and the enthusiastic support of fans who were watching and wagering remotely due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
All-sources wagering on the summer meet, held July 8-12, totaled $63,299,331. Average daily all-sources handle was $12,659,866.
Wagering was boosted by a single-day all-sources handle for the 10-race card on Toyota Blue Grass Day, Saturday, July 11, of $23,834,972, second only to the record $25,809,200 set for last year’s 11-race Toyota Blue Grass Day card. The All-Stakes Pick Five on Saturday handled $1,395,051, well above the former record of $1,079,197 set on Toyota Blue Grass Day last year.
On-track handle, which includes wagering conducted at Keeneland and Red Mile, totaled $674,310, for an average daily on-track handle of $134,862.
“Horsemen and fans alike highly anticipated the summer meet, and their expectations were exceeded by the breathtaking level of racing we enjoyed here this week,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “I can’t express how much we missed our fans at Keeneland, and we thank them for their strong support from afar. This pandemic created a number of operational and logistical challenges for us to make this season a reality. I am so proud of the collaboration between state and local health officials, our horsemen, our corporate partners and our Keeneland team, all of whom worked tirelessly to create a safe environment on track and deliver such incredible racing.”
The summer meet was the first in Keeneland history and accommodated a portion of the 16-day spring meet that Keeneland canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Because of strict health and safety protocols, the summer meet was conducted without fans, who watched and wagered remotely via the track’s Keeneland at Home Presented by Central Bank campaign. Each race day, Keeneland provided enhanced racing coverage streamed live through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter; a new pre-race show, “Keeneland at Home presented by Central Bank,” and complimentary digital race- day programs available on keeneland.com to download.
The summer meet featured 10 graded stakes worth $2,575,000 with four Grade 1 stakes, four Grade 2 races and two Grade 3 events. Keeneland paid total purses of $4,744,435, for average daily purse levels of $948,887. Starters per race averaged 9.4.
“We thank our horsemen for their support of the summer Meet and for always bringing their ‘A Game’ to Keeneland,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “These stakes races are important targets on the racing calendar, representing significant income for horsemen and important black type for breeders. We appreciate the cooperation of Ellis Park and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in helping us make this opportunity possible.”
Keeneland permitted a limited number of owners to be at the track on the day their horses raced.
“We particularly thank the owners that attended for their patience and adherence to the Healthy at Work protocols,” Keeneland Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Vince Gabbert said. “We know the race day did not look or feel like those you are used to enjoying at Keeneland. We appreciate your assistance as we navigate this unusual landscape.”
Summer meet highlights
The summer meet was headlined by Toyota Blue Grass Day on Saturday, when Keeneland presented six graded stakes anchored by the $600,000 Toyota Blue Grass (G2) and $400,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1), preps for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), respectively; $350,000 Coolmore Jenny Wiley (G1) and $250,000 Madison (G1).
Among the summer meet highlights:
• Art Collector roared past the filly Swiss Skydiver to win the Toyota Blue Grass and establish himself as a favorite for the $3 million Kentucky Derby to be run Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.
• Speech won the Central Bank Ashland to earn 100 points and move into second place on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard with 160 points.
• Rushing Fall successfully defended her title in the Coolmore Jenny Wiley to win her fifth Keeneland stakes, a total that trails only the record seven owned by Wise Dan. She becomes the third horse since 1976 to win Grade 1 stakes as age 2, 3, 4 and 5, joining Lady Eli and Beholder.
• Guarana gamely fought back after being passed in midstretch by Mia Mischief to win the Madison and give trainer Chad Brown his 100th Grade 1 victory.
• 2019 Preakness (G1) winner War of Will won the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) on July 10 to become a Grade 1 winner on both turf and dirt.
On Saturday, Keeneland hosted the first online Summer Handicapping Challenge, with 208 entrants paying the $3,000 entry fee and playing through XpressBet and TVG. Stephen Thompson won the event with a bankroll of $41,076 from a beginning stake of $2,000. Thompson takes home, in addition to his bankroll, $40,000 in prize money, a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry and a National Horseplayers Championship entry. In all, six players won BCBC spots and 10 players won NHC spots.
Summer meet leaders
The abbreviated meet did not dampen competition for leading owner, trainer and jockey titles.
Three owners tied for leading honors with two wins each: Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Larry Best’s OXO Equine and Kirk Wycoff’s Three Diamonds Farm. The Ramseys increased their record number of Keeneland titles to 22. Best earned his first leading owner title. Wycoff won the Kentucky Utilities Transylvania (G3) with Field Pass to secure his second leading owner title.
Wesley Ward and Ian Wilkes each recorded five wins to tie for leading trainer honors. It was the sixth Keeneland title for Ward, following titles in the Spring of 2019, 2018 (tie), 2017 and 2012 and in the Fall of 2012. It is the first Keeneland title for Wilkes, who won the Beaumont (G3) Presented by Keeneland Select with Four Graces.
Trainer Mike Maker swept both closing-day stakes, the TVG Elkhorn (G2) with Zulu Alpha and the Transylvania with Field Pass.
Tyler Gaffalione won the final race of the meet, the TVG Elkhorn, to secure his second Keeneland riding title. His first title came in the 2018 Fall Meet. Gaffalione accounted for two other stakes during the meet: the Maker’s Mark Mile aboard War of Will and the Shakertown (G2) with Leinster.
Brian Hernandez Jr. finished second in the jockey standings with six wins. Hernandez won the Toyota Blue Grass with Art Collector.