With about half of the first three days of live racing held under less-than-ideal conditions–downpours or steady rain and a shift of some turf races to the Polytrack–field size at Keeneland held up surprisingly well.
Through the first three days of the meet (Oct. 4-6), an average of 10.07 horses competed in each race, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. It's exactly the same number as the first three days of the 2012 fall meet, when weather was better. There were 29 races last year and this year.
With graded stakes front-loaded as part of "Fall Stars Weekend," purses for the first three days averaged $1,329,703, up from $1,287,410 in 2012, according to TJCIS statistics.
Keeneland president Bill Thomason said at one point on Saturday, he looked at the infield flags to see their direction, and figured what appeared to be an oncoming story would miss Keeneland. Thomason said soon after he looked again, and the flags were pointing directly at the grandstand.
"It was an absolute deluge," he said.
Attendance for the first Saturday card was announced at more than 27,000. The weather was, however, beautiful until mid-afternoon.
Better Lucky wins the 2013 First Lady.
Photo: Keeneland/Coady Photography
Jockey Channing Hill, a Nebraska native who has ridden regularly in New York and Illinois, backed up his decision to ride at Keeneland this fall with a victory aboard Poker Player in the Oct. 6 Bourbon Stakes, a grade III run on the Polytrack instead of the turf because of the weather.
Poker Player, a 2-year-old Harlan's Holiday colt owned by Gary and Mary West, is trained by Wayne Catalano, who asked Hill to venture to Kentucky Downs in September to ride some of his horses. Hill is engaged to Catalano's daughter, Shelbi.
Poker Player running in the Bourbon Stakes.
Photo: Mathea Kelley
"Wayne asked me to go down to Kentucky Downs, and he was just on fire down there," Hill told the Keeneland notes team. "People told me that I sure must like riding at Kentucky Downs, and I told them that it was the horses that I liked being on. You get a lot of notice with four-win days."
Hill won with six of his nine mounts to finish second in the Kentucky Downs standings to Rosie Napravnik, who had eight wins from 30 mounts. Catalano won the Kentucky Downs training title with 10 wins from 15 starters.
Hill said he plans to travel to California for the Breeders' Cup World Championships and then return to New York to ride the rest of the fall and winter.
The Oct. 12 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on the grass came up nicely with grade I winners Alterite and Say among the entrants, but the field has other multiple stakes winners that should make things interesting.
Say, trained by Aidan O'Brien, last raced Oct. 5 and finished sixth of eight on a yielding course in the grade I First Lady Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland. In 2011, however, O'Brien raced Together in both races; the filly won the Challenge Cup after finishing second in the First Lady.
Alterite won the Garden City Stakes (gr. IT) in her U.S. debut Sept. 14. Third in that race was Concise, who has displayed excellent kick in her three U.S. starts and could be primed for an upset for trainer Graham Motion.
The forecast calls for sunshine and no rain Saturday, so expect a firm course.
Keeneland has introduced an app for mobile devices, including iPhones, iPads, and Androids, that displays entries, real-time results, wagering tips, a betting calculator, and an events calendar are easily accessible. There also is an interactive map that allows patrons to notify others of their location at the track. It can be downloaded via iTunes or Google.