Keeneland successfully concluded its 2015 Spring Meet on Friday, yielding a number of positive results: consecutive Saturdays of near-record crowds that contributed to the track’s fourth-highest Spring Meet attendance and a blockbuster opening Saturday which featured both the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass and $500,000 Central Bank Ashland, won by leading classic contenders Carpe Diem and Lovely Maria.
Trainer Graham Motion recorded his third consecutive victory in the $150,000 Bewitch Friday when Augustin Stable’s Kitten’s Point won the 2015 renewal by a half-length before 20,051 fans.
Motion, who was represented by assistant Dave Rock for the race, also won the Bewitch in 2013 with Strathnaver (GB) and 2014 with Inimitable Romanee.
Taking the lead out of the gate from the inside post, Lots o’ Lex and jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. set the pace in :25.14, :50.53, 1:16.36 and a mile in 1:42.41 while their 13 rivals were strung out and Kitten’s Point and jockey Edgar Prado raced in midpack.
Racing four wide around the final turn as the horses bid for position, Kitten’s Point began to take aim on the victory as Lots o’ Lex gave way to her inside and Cay Dancer (GB) took the brief lead.
Kitten’s Point caught Cay Dancer in the final yards to secure the victory, while 40-1 longshot Maria Maria closed to finish third. Giving Prado his first Keeneland stakes win in four years and his 38th stakes victory overall, Kitten’s Point won the race in 2:30.28.
Bred in Pennsylvania by Augustin owner George Strawbridge Jr., Kitten’s Point is a 5-year-old daughter of Kitten’s Joy out of Rendezvous Point, by Kingmambo. She earned $90,000 for the Bewitch victory, which increased her career earnings to $434,565 with five wins in 15 starts.
Strawbridge also won the Bewitch in 2009 with Winter View.
Kitten’s Point paid $13.60, $7.40 and $5.20. Cay Dancer, ridden by Joel Rosario, returned $11.80 and $7.80 to show. Maria Maria was third under Florent Geroux and paid $17.40 to show.
On-track attendance for the 15-day Spring Meet totaled 250,451 to rank as the fourth-highest attendance. Last year, 270,093 attended the 15-day Spring Meet; the record, posted during the 16-day meet in 2013, is 278,415. Average daily attendance this spring was 16,697 compared to last spring’s record 18,006.
Heavy rainfall on seven of the meet’s 15 race days adversely impacted attendance. Lexington has recorded nearly 11 inches of rainfall to date this month to rank as the second-wettest April in history. Rain fell on four of the meet’s first five days of racing, including opening Friday when severe weather forced the cancellation of Keeneland’s final four races to mark the first time in track history that racing was cancelled due to weather.
Keeneland hosted its third- and fourth-largest single-day crowds ever on consecutive Saturdays during the spring. On April 11, 37,193 fans attended Coolmore Lexington Day, which moved up a week on the stakes calendar and featured four stakes including the Jenny Wiley (G1) and Coolmore Lexington (G3). That attendance figure was bested the following Saturday, April 18, when 37,737 fans enjoyed a sun-splashed race day highlighted by the Dixiana Elkhorn (G2).
“I never cease to be impressed by the enthusiasm of our fans, the strong support of our horsemen and the hard work of the Keeneland team that combine to produce the ultimate racing experience,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “The fact that we had a crowd of more than 12,000 people on track for opening Friday, when the Lexington area experienced flooding rains, speaks to their passion for Keeneland and horse racing. We are extremely grateful to the community and to the horse industry.”
On-track wagering totaled $16,142,325 down 14.73 percent from last Spring’s $18,931,643. Average daily on-track handle was $1,076,155, also down 14.73 percent from $1,262,110 in 2014.
All-sources wagering on Keeneland’s Spring Meet was $117,617,108, down 14.79 percent compared to $138,033,442 last spring.
This meet was the first Spring Meet to be held over Keeneland’s new dirt track. The track’s consistent performance and ability to drain quickly and safely in the face of this month’s near-record rainfall drew praise from participating trainers.
Average daily purses of $588,192 continue to rank among the top in the country.
This spring, the Toyota Blue Grass, a nationally prominent prep for the Kentucky Derby, carried a purse of $1 million and was moved up a week on the stakes schedule to opening Saturday, April 4. Contested for the first time in nine years on the dirt, the Toyota Blue Grass was won in a romp by WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stables’ Carpe Diem, winner of the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) here last fall.
The same day, former Kentucky Gov. Brereton C. Jones’ Lovely Maria easily captured the Central Bank Ashland, a prestigious prep for the Longines Kentucky Oaks.
Many of North America’s leading riders were part of the Keeneland jockey colony during the spring, led by current national and Spring Meet leading rider Javier Castellano, along with John Velazquez, Irad Ortiz Jr., Mike Smith and Joel Rosario, who recorded his 2,000th career win on April 23 at Keeneland.
Counted among the top trainers stabled at Keeneland were national and Spring Meet leader Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Michael Maker, Kiaran McLaughlin, Bill Mott, Larry Jones, Shug McGaughey and Mark Casse.
“One of the things that is so special about Keeneland is that it brings together the sport’s top owners, trainers and jockeys, many of whom never get the opportunity to compete against one another at any other time during the year,” Beasley said. “We thank them for their loyal support of Keeneland racing.”
Spring Meet Leaders
Ken and Sarah Ramsey won 11 races during the Spring Meet, highlighted by two three-win days, on their way to a record 15th Keeneland leading owner title, eclipsing the 14 titles earned by T.A. Grissom, either singly or in partnership with J.E. Grissom, from 1954-1977.
The Ramseys have won or shared seven Spring Meet leading owner titles (2004, 2006, 2010-2013, 2015) and eight Fall Meet titles (2000, 2002, 2007-2009, 2012-2014) at Keeneland. They hold the record for most wins by an owner in a single meet, setting milestones during the 2013 Spring (25) and Fall (17) race meets, and rank second in total number of races won by an owner at Keeneland (187).
The couple received Eclipse Awards as outstanding owner and breeder in 2013 and 2014 and as outstanding owner in 2004 and 2011.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Godolphin Racing LLC notched six wins during the meet to be second in the owner standings.
Two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano earned his first riding title.
Castellano, who currently sits atop the North American rider standings in terms of wins and earnings, dominated the Keeneland jockey standings this spring, compiling 21 wins during the 15-day meet. His impressive stats were boosted by four graded stakes victories – Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) (Jack Milton), Jenny Wiley (G1) (Ball Dancing), Ben Ali (G3) (Protonico) and Transylvania (G3) Presented Keeneland Select (Night Prowler) – and five three-win days during the Spring Meet.
Jose Lezcano finished second with 11 wins followed by Joel Rosario with 10.
The race for leading trainer was decided in the final races on closing day. Seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher tallied 10 wins to collect his fourth Keeneland training title. Wesley Ward, Michael Maker, Chad Brown and Kiaran McLaughlin finished in a four-way tie for second with eight wins each.
Among Pletcher’s 10 wins, which included a three-win day on April 10, was his third Toyota Blue Grass with Carpe Diem, the Maker’s 46 Mile with Jack Milton and the Ben Ali (G3) with Protonico. His 44 Keeneland stakes victories is second to mentor D. Wayne Lukas’ 50 in terms of all-time stakes wins by a trainer at Keeneland.
Racing returns to Keeneland Oct. 2 for the start of the Fall Meet. On Oct. 30-31, Keeneland will host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.