Keeneland's Spring Meet closed Friday with record 15-day meet attendance and gains in on-track wagering, according to the track.
On-track attendance for the Spring Meet, held April 4-25, totaled 270,093, besting the previous 15-day meet record of 269,292 posted during the 2012 Spring Meet, and just behind last spring’s record 278,415 for 16 days of racing.
Average daily attendance of 18,006 is the highest ever recorded at Keeneland, and eclipses the previous record of 17,953, also set during the 2012 Spring Meet.
Keeneland hosted the track’s second- and fourth-largest crowds ever on consecutive Saturdays during the Spring Meet.
On April 12, 39,722 people attended Toyota Blue Grass Day, and 34,933 were on hand for Coolmore Lexington Day a week later.
On Sunday, April 13, 20,741 patrons, the second-largest Sunday crowd in track history, turned out to celebrate Horses and Hope Pink Day, during which Keeneland honored legendary retired female jockeys and active female riders participating in its Ladies of the Turf event.
“Keeneland has the best fans in the world, and we are very grateful for their support,” said Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason. “Their passion for Keeneland, and appreciation of quality racing, creates an energy that makes this a truly special place.”
The large crowds generated total on-track handle of $18,931,643, up slightly from $18,890,584 in 2013.
Average daily on-track handle rose seven percent from $1,180,662 to $1,262,110.
Wagering by patrons via Keeneland Select, the track’s advance deposit wagering platform, also realized significant growth over last year.
Registrations increased 41 percent from Spring 2013, while handle was up 15 percent.
All-sources wagering on Keeneland totaled $138,033,442 compared to $158,640,589 last spring.
Keeneland showcased many of Thoroughbred racing’s stars, and the competition produced some thrilling finishes during the spring.
Rosalind and Room Service could not be separated at the finish following a stretch duel in the Central Bank Ashland (G1) on April 5, resulting in the first dead heat in a Grade 1 race at Keeneland.
Two-time Horse of the Year and fan favorite Wise Dan kicked off his 2014 campaign with a win in the Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) on April 11 to earn a gold tray for owner/breeder Mort Fink, who recorded his eighth graded stakes win at Keeneland.
Dance With Fate earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby (G1) Presented by Yum! Brands starting gate with his victory in the Toyota Blue Grass (G1) on April 12.
In addition to the world-class racing, fans enjoyed a number of new special events, as well as returning favorites.
Some 4,000 college students participated in College Scholarship Day on opening Friday; hundreds of fans got their commemorative Maker’s Mark bottle signed by University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops on Maker’s Mark Day, April 11; and on April 18 long lines greeted the cast of the movie “50 to 1” and its star, 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and returned that evening for the It’s My Derby event.
“It’s all about creating a memorable experience for our guests,” Thomason said. “The highest- quality racing, customer service that goes above and beyond, fan-friendly initiatives for our casual players – everything we do is with the goal of building lifelong racing fans.”
Purses for the 15-day Spring Meet continued to rank among the nation’s highest, averaging $549,937 compared to $512,336 last year, attracting the sport’s leading trainers and jockeys.
“We owe our thanks to our great horsemen, who continually elevate the quality of racing here at Keeneland,” Vice President of Racing W.B. Rogers Beasley said.
Spring Meet Leaders
In his first full season riding at Keeneland since 2012, jockey Julien Leparoux dominated the Spring Meet standings despite a closing-day run of three consecutive wins by Stewart Elliott.
Leparoux finished the meet with 19 wins, including a three-win day on April 4, to claim his 10th Keeneland riding title and tie Hall of Famer Steve Brooks for third place in terms of number of meet wins. He has earned six Spring Meet titles (2006-2007, 2009, 2011-2012, 2014) and four Fall Meet titles (2006, 2010-2012). A two-time Eclipse Award recipient, Leparoux has won 345 Keeneland races, including 40 stakes, to rank fifth among all riders in terms of most wins and most stakes win at the track.
“It’s good to be back in Kentucky and to get the title here against a lot of very good jockeys,” Leparoux said. “It’s always a tough meet in April here, so good to be on top for sure.”
Stewart Elliott, riding his first meet at Keeneland, finished second in the standings with 15 wins.
The race for leading trainer honors went down to the wire, with Mark Casse scoring two wins on closing day to pull away from Ken McPeek and Wesley Ward and secure his first Keeneland training title. A multiple Sovereign Award winner, Casse won 11 races this spring, including the Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare (G3) with Sisterly Love.
McPeek won nine races to place second, while Ward finished third with eight wins.
John C. Oxley won five races and earned his fourth title as leading owner. He previously topped the rankings in the Fall 1991 (tie), Spring 1995 (tie) and Fall 2000.
The photo that accompanies this story features all the spring meet leaders (left to right) Norman Casse (son of leading trainer Mark Casse), Keeneland President & CEO Bill Thomason, and leading jockey Julien Leparoux and his wife Shea.