LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 31, 2016) – Keeneland closed the 2016 fall meet Saturday with record total on-track attendance of 276,543 and substantial gains in on-track and all-sources wagering.
Double-digit growth in attendance and handle for the 17-day fall meet, held Oct. 7-29, was fueled by full, top-quality fields that averaged 9.1 runners per race, popular special events, exciting wagering options and unseasonably warm, sunny fall weather.
On-track attendance of 276,543 exceeded last fall’s 240,709 by nearly 15 percent and surpassed the previous record of 266,466 set during the 2013 fall meet. Average daily attendance of 16,267 increased nearly 15 percent from 14,159 in 2015 and bested the 2013 fall meet record of 15,674.
The fall meet got off to a strong start when Keeneland hosted a record Fall Stars Weekend crowd of 66,437 on Oct. 7-9 to break a decade-long record of 62,454. The three-day weekend comprised a record Friday opening-day crowd of 19,882, the second-largest Fall Stars Saturday crowd of 28,101 and a record Fall Stars Sunday crowd of 18,454. On Saturday, Oct. 15, a total of 29,319 fans, the second-largest single-day fall meet crowd in track history, turned out to watch Time and Motion win the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Presented by Lane’s End (G1). The date was exactly 80 years after Keeneland opened its inaugural racing season in 1936.
Total on-track wagering of $17,793,419 outpaced last fall’s $15,813,986 by 12.5 percent. Average daily on-track handle rose 12.5 percent from $930,234 to $1,046,672.
All-sources wagering on the fall meet, including wagering at Keeneland on imported simulcast signals, totaled $136,024,267, up 11 percent when compared to last fall’s $122,469,056. Average daily all-sources handle of $8,001,427 also increased 11 percent versus $7,204,062 in the fall of 2015.
All-sources handle on the 10-race card on opening Saturday, Oct. 8, reached $15,926,396 to surpass the previous fall meet single-day record of $14,135,204 set on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007.
Wagering was further driven by a Pick 6 carryover that grew to $329,321 before being hit on Thursday, Oct. 20, when 61 perfect tickets each paid $16,690. On that day, a total of $1,145,677 was wagered into the Pick 6 pool to set a record single-day Keeneland Fall Meet Pick 6 handle (the previous record was $629,310 in the fall of 2003). It was the second-largest single-day Pick 6 handle in Keeneland history, falling just behind the record $1,366,063 wagered in April 2008.
“The fall meet was simply spectacular,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “The world-class racing, idyllic weather and colorful fall landscape, wonderful food and fun-filled special events all combined to make this a very special race meet. I often saw fans linger until well after the last race to savor every minute of an afternoon spent in this extraordinary setting.”
Keeneland’s opening Fall Stars Weekend lived up to its name, featuring nine graded stakes that showcased racing’s most talented human and equine athletes. Seven Fall Stars stakes were “Win & You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, to be held Nov. 4-5 at Santa Anita. Horses earning an automatic berth into the World Championships were Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix (G2) winner A. P. Indian (Sprint-G1); Darley Alcibiades (G1) winner Dancing Rags (Juvenile Fillies-G1); Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) winner Miss Temple City (Mile-G1); Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) winner Classic Empire (Juvenile-G1); Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) winner Irish Jasper (Filly and Mare Sprint-G1); Juddmonte Spinster (G1) winner I’m a Chatterbox (Distaff-G1); and Dixiana Bourbon (G3) winner Keep Quiet (FR) (Juvenile Turf-G1). La Coronel won Keeneland’s eighth Breeders’ Cup Challenge race, the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine (G3) on Oct. 12, to gain entry into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). In all, 27 horses pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup raced at Keeneland during the Fall Meet.
Purse money this fall averaged $675,750 to rank Keeneland among the nation’s most lucrative racing programs and attract North America’s top jockeys and trainers. The jockey colony, recognized as one of the most competitive in the country, featured leading riders Julien Leparoux, Florent Geroux, John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, Edgar Prado, Kent Desormeaux, Robby Albarado, Corey Lanerie, Jose Ortiz, Ricardo Santana Jr., Joe Bravo, Brian Hernandez Jr., Calvin Borel, James Graham, Chris Landeros, Trevor McCarthy and Tyler Gaffalione.
Many of the sport’s top stables also were represented, led by such nationally prominent trainers as Mark Casse, Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Steve Asmussen, Michael Maker, Graham Motion, Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, Brad Cox, Larry Jones, Wesley Ward, Shug McGaughey, Kenny McPeek, Dale Romans, D. Wayne Lukas, Tom Proctor and Nick Zito.
“We enjoyed championship-caliber racing throughout the Fall Meet, and we thank our horsemen for their strong support of Keeneland,” Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “The quality and size of our race fields made Keeneland a popular racing product and drove increases in handle both at the track and nationwide.”
To complement the outstanding racing program, Keeneland featured a slate of unique special events that exemplified Keeneland’s philanthropic mission and created opportunities to engage racegoers and showcase Thoroughbred racing. Highlighting the Fall Meet were Make-A-Wish Day on Oct. 13, when local Thoroughbred farms partnered with Keeneland to grant wishes for nine deserving children; College Scholarship Day on Oct. 14, which attracted more than 1,800 area college and university students and gave away $10,000 in scholarship money; seeblue. Day at the Races on Oct. 21, the kickoff to a “Kentucky Double” weekend of Keeneland racing and University of Kentucky football; and Heroes Day Delivered by Papa John’s on Oct. 23, when Keeneland honored active and veteran military members, law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs and their families.
A record 145 players on Sunday, Oct. 16, participated in Keeneland’s National Handicapping Challenge/Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Handicapping Challenge, won by Cleveland-area native Ryan Steigmeier. Players competed for $45,000 in prize money and seven fully paid entries to both the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.