Keeneland closes Fall Meet, taps top jockey, trainer; Breeders’ Cup next

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Keeneland)Keeneland successfully concluded its Fall Meet on Saturday, and quickly turned its attention to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at the track on Nov. 6-7.

All the while, it continued its philanthropic mission of supporting the Central Kentucky community and the Thoroughbred industry.

And the final day came with a guest track announcer after Keeneland track announcer Kurt Becker tested positive for COVID-19. He was experiencing mild symptoms and is resting at home. Travis Stone from Churchill Downs was the visiting track announcer.

While track attendance was limited, wagering still wasn’t that far off the 2019 record. And the competition for top owner, trainer ad jockey was just as spirited.

The Fall Meet featured a battle for the title of leading trainer and leading owner, while Tyler Gaffalione was the clear winner for leading jockey honors.

The race for leading trainer among Brad Cox, Mike Maker and Steve Asmussen was decided on the final day.

Cox won two races on closing day to increase his total to 15 and earn his second title, joining Spring 2018. His wins during the season included the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity with Essential Quality and JPMorgan Chase Jessamine with Aunt Pearl (IRE), two horses expected to return in the Breeders’ Cup. Cox also had a three-win day on Oct. 18.

Maker ranked second in the trainer standings with 12 wins, while Asmussen recorded 11 victories to finish third.

Among jockeys, Tyler Gaffalione won 24 races to secure his third leading rider title following Fall 2018 and Summer 2020. Gaffalione’s victories included the Buffalo Trace Franklin County (G3) on Got Stormy, another Breeders’ Cup hopeful.

Finishing second and third, respectively, in the standings were Florent Geroux (16 wins) and Ricardo Santana Jr. (13 wins). The two riders each recorded three-win days: Geroux on Oct. 18 and Santana on Oct. 16 and Oct. 22.

Luis Saez won five of the 10 Fall Stars Weekend stakes: the opening-day Darley Alcibiades with Simply Ravishing; Saturday’s Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity on Essential Quality and Woodford (G2) Presented by Keeneland Select with Leinster; and Sunday’s Juddmonte Spinster with Valiance and Bourbon (G3) with Mutasaabeq.

Earning its first title as leading owner was Mike Sisk’s M and M Racing, which won five races with eight starters. Robertino Diodoro trained the M and M horses, and David Cohen was aboard every winner. Together, the trio won three races on Oct. 9.

Bonnie and Tommy Hamilton’s Silverton Hill won four races during the meet. Five owners notched three wins apiece: Asmussen, Mohammed Al Maktoum et al’s Godolphin, Ken and Sarah Ramsey,  Kirk Wycoff’s Three Diamonds Farm and Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm.

“On behalf of Keeneland, our sincerest thanks to our fans across the country and around the world, and our racing participants, sponsors, industry and community partners and employees who enabled us to hold a safe, competitive Fall Meet during these unprecedented times,” said Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason, who presided over his final race meet before his retirement on Dec. 31. “The silver lining of this pandemic has been the collaboration and creativity of various constituencies in their steadfast support of Thoroughbred racing and our philanthropic mission. There is a true spirit of coming together for the good of all.”

Though the Fall Meet was closed to the public due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, fans enthusiastically wagered more than $148 million on the 17 days of racing from Oct. 2-24.

“We continue to be humbled by the tremendous support of our fans; their passion for Keeneland is inspiring,” Keeneland President-Elect Shannon Arvin said. “This track was created for people to enjoy the grounds and the thrill of racing in person. I know I speak for the entire Keeneland team and our horsemen when I say we can’t wait to welcome our fans back to the track.”

All-sources wagering on live racing during the Fall Meet totaled $148,229,708, for an average daily handle of $8,719,395. Last fall, all-sources wagering was a Keeneland record $160,207,916 for the 17-day Fall Meet.

Keeneland established a record Fall Meet Pick 5 handle of $868,303 on Fall Stars Saturday, Oct. 3, besting the previous record of $794,689 set on opening Saturday in 2019.

The Fall Meet was conducted with only a limited number of participants and essential personnel in attendance, resulting in total on-track handle of $2,477,890, for average daily on-track handle of $145,758. In comparison, on-track handle totaled $17,320,852 for the 2019 Fall Meet.

“Historically, Keeneland ranks among the top tracks in North America in terms of average daily attendance and enjoys some of the highest on-track handle figures,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing Bob Elliston said. “The difference in all-sources wagering this fall versus last comes down to the loss in on-track wagering.” 

Fall Meet racing highlights

Keeneland purses remained among the richest in North America this fall, averaging $682,324 per day. Average starters per race was 8.1 compared to 9.5 during the 2019 Fall Meet. Field size was impacted this fall by pandemic-related travel restrictions and limitations on horses shipping in from other major racing jurisdictions. 

Ten horses secured berths in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland with victories in Win & You’re In stakes this fall. Among the Grade 1 victors were Darley Alcibiades winner Simply Ravishing (Juvenile Fillies-G1); Shadwell Turf Mile winner Ivar (BRZ) (Mile-G1); First Lady Presented by UK HealthCare winner Uni (GB) (Filly and Mare Turf-G1); Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity winner Essential Quality (Juvenile-G1) and Juddmonte Spinster winner Valiance (Distaff-G1).

In other racing highlights:

  • Harvey’s Lil Goil grabbed the lead at the top of the stretch and then held off challengers to win the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) Presented by Dixiana, the sixth Grade 1 event of the Fall Meet.
  • Stoll Keenon Ogden, Keeneland’s only legal counsel since its founding in the 1930s, celebrated its 10-year milestone sponsorship of the Phoenix (G2), won by Diamond Oops. With the victory, Diamond Oops earned a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).
  • Aunt Pearl (IRE) took the lead at the break and cruised to a 2½-length victory in stakes-record time to win the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine (G2) and win a fees-paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).

“We appreciate the strong support of our owners, trainers and jockeys; their desire to participate at the highest levels of racing is what makes Keeneland so special,” Elliston said. “We look forward to cheering on many of our Fall Meet contenders at the Breeders’ Cup here in two weeks.”

Nourish Lexington featured Fall Meet charity

Keeneland made it easy for fans no matter their location to watch and wager on the Fall Meet with Keeneland at Home Presented by UK HealthCare and Official Keeneland Watch Parties in Partnership with VisitLEX and the Bluegrass Hospitality Association.

Keeneland at Home fans and Keeneland Watch Party attendees had the opportunity to support Nourish Lexington, Keeneland’s featured Fall Meet charity. By using the talents and resources of food service and hospitality employees displaced by the pandemic, Nourish Lexington has provided more than 160,000 scratch-made, nutritious meals for community members in need since April. 

True to its mission, Keeneland’s commitment to support the community and the Thoroughbred industry remained unchanged as the track teamed with sponsors and racing-related partners to virtually conduct several popular Fall Meet special events and raise much-needed funds for worthwhile causes.

  • A virtual edition of Make-A-Wish Day on Oct. 8 marked the 13th year that local Thoroughbred farms and organizations joined Keeneland to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. This year, Keeneland and TVG along with Airdrie Stud, Ashford Stud, Flaxman Holdings, Gainesway, Godolphin, Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, Lane’s End Farm, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital and Spendthrift Farm participated. Keeneland donated $10,000 to Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
  • Keeneland teamed with UPS and City Barbecue to honor front-line health care workers, first responders, members of the military, teachers and others on Heroes Day, Oct. 18. Keeneland fans nominated deserving community heroes online. Three Central Kentuckians – Letitia Roark from Versailles, Laura Stark of Lexington and Thomas Shaddix from Stamping Ground – were selected as grand prize winners to receive a Keeneland Heroes Day at Home Tailgate from City Barbecue, $1,000 Visa gift card provided by UPS and other goodies. Twelve other nominees received $250 Visa gift cards provided by UPS.
  • College Scholarship Day went digital on Oct. 23, awarding more than $30,000 in scholarships and dozens of prizes to students in partnership with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Coca-Cola.
  • Juddmonte, sponsor of the Juddmonte Spinster, and Keeneland made a combined donation of $10,000 to the Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) program, which provides hands-on internship opportunities for college students interested in careers in the horse industry. Many of the nearly 1,000 graduates of the KEMI program have found rewarding careers in diverse areas of the industry.
  • Keeneland sponsor Kentucky Utilities challenged Keeneland fans with a matching campaign to support God’s Pantry and Nourish Lexington with a $7,500 commitment. To support this initiative, please visit
  • With the help of its corporate partners, Keeneland thanked the hardworking community in the track’s stable area on selected days during the Fall Meet with Nourish the Backstretch, an extension of Nourish Lexington. Participating partners include Anthem, Buffalo Trace, Claiborne Farm, Darley, Dixiana, Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, Juddmonte Farms, Lexus of Lexington, Pin Oak Stud, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, Shadwell Farm, Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC, TVG and UK HealthCare.
  • Keeneland and Lexus of Lexington, sponsor of the Lexus Raven Run (G2), made a combined commitment of $5,000 to The MAP Foundation/Woodhill Community Center. Lexington Leadership Foundation (LLF) and The MAP Foundation have partnered to provide the children, teens and families involved in LLF’s Urban Impact Initiative and throughout the Lexington community a place where they can realize their potential to grow, succeed and lead. 

2020 Fall Meet at a Glance (Oct. 2-24)

  Fall 2020 Fall 2019
All-Sources Handle on Keeneland $148,229,708 $160,207,916
Avg. Daily All-Sources Handle on Keeneland $8,719,395 $9,423,995
Total On-Track Handle $2,477,890 $17,320,852
Avg. Daily On-Track Handle $145,758 $1,018,873
Total Attendance 15,351 262,630
Avg. Daily Attendance 903 15,449
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