Keeneland is one of the best-known tracks in the US and is located in the “Horse Capital of the World” – Lexington, Kentucky. Despite not hosting all-year round, the track is open to the public every single day of the week. It has been hosting thoroughbred action since 1936 and is one of the most recognizable venues in North America.
As well as hosting top-class thoroughbred racing, Keeneland is famed for being located in beautiful surroundings. The track also boasts the most prominent thoroughbred auction house in the world, with sales taking place four times a year. Many Breeders Cup and Kentucky Derby winners were sold at the Keeneland auctions prior to becoming household names.
As one of the most scenic venues on the US racing calendar, it is always popular with visitors, who enjoy regular race-days at the track. Tours of the venue are also available, and racing aficionados can also take a tour of the jockeys’ quarters, or perhaps even enjoy a trackside view of the morning workouts.
In a 2009 survey, Keeneland was voted the number one racetrack in North America. Since 1986, it has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Some of the most important races in North America are held at the track, with Keeneland hosting ten Grade I events throughout the year.
The modus operandi of Keeneland racetrack was “to create a model racetrack to perpetuate and improve the sport and to provide a course that is intended to serve as a symbol of the fine traditions of Thoroughbred racing.”
It regularly attracts significant-sized fields, and the purse distribution means that some of North America’s best horsemen pay regular visits to the track throughout the summer months. Keeneland regularly hosts races which showcase the best two-year-olds in the sport, and their stakes program attracts interest from around the globe. At the time of writing, 32 Breeders Cup winners had their first run at the Kentucky track.
Following the sudden closure of the Kentucky Association track in 1933, Lexington was left without a venue, and a number of prominent horsemen were left feeling bereft. Jack Keene owned 147 acres of farmland and decided to enlist the help of Hal Prince Headley and Major Louie Beard to draw up plans for a racetrack.
Despite concerns from residents, it took just 15 months to open Keeneland, and all profits were plunged straight back into the community and local projects. It was originally managed by a team of volunteers, who were delighted to see over 8,000 spectators attend the opening day of racing at the track. The track just about broke even following their opening nine-day meet.
Keeneland has preserved a number of its traditions over the years, and it was the last track to broadcast race-calls via its public address system until it was finally scrapped in 1997. There is certainly a “retro” feel to the track, and although it has modernized where necessary, it still retains many of its original features.
A trackside winners circle was added in 1984, ahead of a visit from Queen Elizabeth II, while a turf course was also installed just twelve months later. For the next twenty years, Keeneland also boasted a polytrack surface, although this reverted to a dirt track in 2004.
Despite a number of calls the authorities to acknowledge Keeneland, the track wasn’t selected to host the world-famous Breeders Cup until 2015. Despite initial skepticism, the track’s hosting of the prestigious event was considered to be a huge success, and it has also been selected to host the Breeders Cup in 2020.
Keeneland Known Track Bias
Keeneland is regarded as one of the fairer tracks in North America, and there is very little bias evident in the majority of races, although there are a number of quirks to watch out for.
However, over a distance of 1 1/16 mile on the dirt, the starting gate is typically located close to the first turn, which can often favor horses running from the inside post who show good early speed. Early speed is also crucial in wet conditions, with the track typically riding faster after a period of heavy rainfall.
Closers tend to fare a little better on the turf course with Keeneland’s unique sand-based turf track typically favoring horses who show good speed around the final turn. Although it is going back a long way, statistics show that just 4% of winners on the turf course in 2004 went wire-to-wire.
Winning Post Positions
According to the statistics for the 2019 spring meet, which concluded on the 26th April, stalls 3 and 9 produced the highest number of winners in sprint events on the main track. A combined total of 35% of winners came from either of these two positions. Sprint events at Keeneland generally attract decent-sized fields and subsequently produced a largely even spread across the board.
Stall 4 proved less than effective, with just 6 of the 63 starters winning from this post (9%).
It was a similar story for main-track races of a mile or over, with just 9% of horses drawn in stall 4 entering the winner’s enclosure. As explained in the known track bias, the inside posts over the longer trip proved lucrative with 22% of winners coming from stall one. Stall five was also profitable for handicappers, with 16% of winners being positioned here.
There were fewer races held on the turf during the spring meet; however, 50% of winners in sprint events were drawn in stalls 1 or 2.
Route races produced a fairly even split; however, horses drawn in stall 3 were successful in almost 20% of these events. Stalls 5 and 6 produced just 11% of winners, while none of the seven horses drawn in 8 went on to win their race.
Top Trainers at Keeneland
Some of the top horsemen in North America regularly visit the track during the spring and fall meets, and they routinely leave Kentucky with a number of winners under their belt.
There a number of names to keep an eye at future meets:
Stats (2019 spring meet)
- George Arnold (19% Strike Rate)
- Ian Wilkes (19% Strike Rate)
- Brendan Walsh (23% Strike Rate)
- Wesley Ward (29% Strike Rate)
- Chad Brown (35% Strike Rate)
- Todd Pletcher (36% Strike Rate)
- Brad Cox (38% Strike Rate)
Top Jockeys at Keeneland
A horse’s performance and finishing position can be significantly affected by the quality of jockey on board, and some riders will be able to make the difference between winning and losing a race at Keeneland.
There are a number of talented jockeys who regularly compete in Lexington:
Stats (2019 spring meet)
- Jose Ortiz (17% Strike Rate)
- Florent Geroux (19% Strike Rate)
- Luis Saez (20% Strike Rate)
- Joel Rosario (23% Strike Rate)
- John Velazquez (25% Strike Rate)
- Javier Castellano (42% Strike Rate)
Keeneland Racing Season and Key Races
Keeneland hosts a combined total of 32 race-days per year, and these are separated into a spring and fall meet.
The spring meet takes place throughout April and consists of 15 days of high-quality action on both the dirt and turf course. It is one of the richest meets in North America, with highlights including the Blue Grass Stakes and the Ashland Stakes.
The fall meet takes place throughout October and is slightly longer. The 17-day event is one of the best-attended events on the thoroughbred racing calendar and features 17 graded stakes events. Six grade one events take place during this period, many of which are prep races for the Breeders Cup, which takes place at the beginning of November.
Grade I Races:
Alcibiades Stakes, Ashland Stakes, Breeders’ Futurity Stakes, First Lady Stakes, Jenny Wiley Stakes, Madison Stakes, Maker’s 46 mile Stakes, Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes, Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes, Spinster Stakes
Grade II Races:
Blue Grass Stakes, Elkhorn Stakes, Fayette Stakes, Marathon Stakes, Raven Run Stakes, Shakertown Stakes, Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes
Grade III Races:
Appalachian Stakes, Beaumont Stakes, Ben Ali Stakes, Bewitch Stakes, Bourbon Stakes, Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes, Commonwealth Stakes, Doubledogdare Stakes, Dowager Stakes, Lexington Stakes, Phoenix Stakes, Sycamore Stakes, Transylvania Stakes, Valley View Stakes, Woodford Stakes.
Keeneland Racetrack Address
4201 Versailles Rd, Lexington, KY 40510, USA