News and STORIES

Keeneland Set for Stacked Five-Day Meet

Author: Clint Goodman
Published: Wednesday July 08, 2020
Keeneland is set to make headlines with a five-day meet between Wednesday to Sunday, one of which will have 10 graded stakes. The increase in stakes races is a result of the cancellation of the track's spring meet in April, due to the forced closure from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The five-day meet will have no fans, but there will be top-class horses participating, especially during the last three days.

Race Cards

Wednesday and Thursday's cards will be highlighted by allowance races, and Friday will bring the upper-tier stakes with the $300,000 Maker's Mark Mile (G1T). The Maker's Mile will be the first grade 1 race run in Kentucky since the Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29.

Under a normal schedule without changes from COVID-19, the track would have already seen 10 grade 1 races take place in April and May. Now, four of those 10 will run at Keeneland during this meet, and the other six will run during the postponed Derby week between Sept. 1-5 at Churchill.

Saturday is set to see the $400,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1), the $350,000 Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1), and the $250,000 Madison Stakes (G1). It will also be the day for three additional stakes, including the $600,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).

Bob Elliston is Keeneland's vice president of racing and sales.

"The Keeneland stakes program is critically important in terms of black type when you look at the four grade 1s, the four grade 2s," said Elliston. "These are races people point toward the whole year-round. They hopefully happen at a time they're in collaboration with other important racing programs around the country."

Schedule Changes

For Keeneland to be able to run the five-day meet, Ellis Park had to pause its season for a week. The track traditionally runs the summer dates in Kentucky.

Keeneland still had to find the right time to run, which ended up being before the Saratoga Race Course meet, beginning on July 16. Many of Kentucky's top-level horses travel to upstate New York to race at the track during the spring.

Without counting also-eligibles, the average field size for the summer Keeneland meet is 10.4 entrants per race, over the nine-race cards from Wednesday to Saturday. The weekend races have yet to be drawn.

Steve Asmussen

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has 16 horses and one also-eligible entered from Wednesday to Saturday, including Super Stock for the first race on Thursday's card.

His first stakes horse will run on Friday and is Frizette Stakes (G1) winner Wicked Whisper. He will return to the Beaumont Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select (G3) following a fifth-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 1.

Asmussen is expecting to run Basin on Saturday in the Blue Grass and Mia Mischief in the Madison, among others.

"Delighted to get the opportunity to run the Blue Grass and the traditional stakes," he said. "This is the new normal, so to speak."

Nation's Top Jockeys

The meet's final three days will see some of the nation's best jockeys traveling to the track to join regular riders. 

Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, Irad Ortiz, Jr., and John Velazquez will all arrive on Friday to ride, and Jose Ortiz and Flavien Prat could stay over the weekend.

"We're expecting a very good, strong summer meet," Keeneland racing secretary Ben Huffman said. "We have some good horses coming here, top trainers, and jockeys. I think it is going to be interesting and exciting."