With Dirt, Keeneland Reaching for the Breeders' Cup Stars

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Hello old friend.

With its return to dirt racing this fall, Keeneland hopes to hear that greeting--cue Eric Clapton--from more horsemen interested in prepping their top starters for main-track races in this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

When Keeneland after this year’s spring meet removed a remarkably safe Polytrack that also saw handle records fall during its use at a time when many tracks were struggling through wagering declines, one of the main explanations was a desire to draw more top horses for its top races. In the spring, that means more top Triple Crown horses in the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) and Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. III). In the fall it means more Breeders’ Cup horses in the main-track races conducted during Keeneland’s Fall Stars weekend of stakes races.

Based on number of Breeders’ Cup winners, three of Keeneland’s four main-track Breeders’ Cup prep races conducted at its fall meet were negatively impacted during the move to Polytrack before the 2006 fall meeting. Still, thanks to the success of the one Keeneland race that fared very well, and added Breeders’ Cup events, the average number of main-track Breeders’ Cup winners to prep at Keeneland didn’t change when the track moved from dirt to Polytrack.

Keeneland’s Spinster Stakes (gr. I) registered the most dramatic decline after the change. From 1984 through 2005, Spinster starters went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) 10 times, making it the most important Distaff prep during that stretch. But since Keeneland’s move to Polytrack in 2006, no Spinster starter has registered a Distaff victory.

The impressive list of Spinster starters to win the Distaff is listed below.

Bayakoa won the Spinster and the Breeders' Cup Distaff in both 1989 and 1990 - Anne M. Eberhardt Photo

Keeneland’s two juvenile races that pair up with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) also saw a decline in Breeders’ Cup success after the dirt track was removed.

Four starters in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) went on to win the Juvenile from 1985-1998 but the only Breeders’ Futurity starter to take the Juvenile during the Polytrack era was Street Sense, who finished third in the 2006 Breeders' Futurity before cruising to a 10-length score in the Juvenile on the dirt at Churchill Downs.

Street Sense finished 3rd in the Breeders' Futurity before winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile - Anne M. Eberhardt Photo

I suspect if Keeneland had been dirt in 2006, we would have seen Street Sense deliver a performance in the Breeders’ Futurity similar to his dominating Juvenile win. In the Breeders’ Futurity, he held a clear lead in midstretch but couldn’t hold off the late Polytrack rallies of Great Hunter and Circular Quay. Instead Street Sense broke through in the Juvenile at odds of 15-1.

Five of the six all-time Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) starters who went on to win the Juvenile Fillies prepped on dirt. The only Alcibiades starter on Polytrack to win the Juvenile Fillies was She Be Wild in 2009 and that B.C. victory was secured on the former synthetic surface at Santa Anita Park.

Silverbulletday won the 1998 Alcibiades and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies - Anne M. Eberhardt Photo

The one Keeneland Polytrack race that thrived as a Breeders’ Cup prep was the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II) as a prep race for the Filly and Mare Sprint (gr. I). The Filly and Mare Sprint was added to the Breeders’ Cup schedule in 2007 and the Thoroughbred Club of America has easily been its most important prep race. Five of the seven Filly and Mare Sprint winners prepped in the Thoroughbred Club of America, including a current streak of five straight victories.

Groupie Doll ran in the Thoroughbred Cup of America before both of her Breeders' Cup wins - Keeneland Photo

In all, 26 winners of main-track Breeders’ Cup winners races prepped in stakes at the Keeneland fall meet. Of that 26, 19 raced on a dirt surface at Keeneland from 1984-2005; and seven prepped on the Keeneland Polytrack from 2006-2013.

Because of the success of the TOC as a prep for the Filly and Mare Sprint, Keeneland’s main-track Breeders’ Cup strike rate by year did not change. The dirt era at Keeneland saw 0.86 fall stakes starters a season go on to win main-track Breeders’ Cup races. The Polytrack era saw .87 stakes starters a year go on to win main-track Breeders’ Cup races.

But those averages would be affected by the addition of the Filly and Mare Sprint creating more opportunity during the Polytrack era. For instance, the TOC starters before 2006 would have been forced to stretch out or compete against males in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I). Surely some of the TOC starters from 1984-2005 would have won the Filly and Mare Sprint, if it had been offered.

Also during the Polytrack era, Stepahnie’s Kitten prepped for her 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. I) victory with a Polytrack win in the Darley Alcibiades.

Dirt racing returns this fall.

Breeders’ Cup Main-Track Race Winners
Who Prepped at Keeneland
Breeders’ Cup Distaff
Horse Year Race (finish)
Pleasant Home 2005 Spinster (2nd)
Unbridled Elaine 2001 Spinster (4th)
Spain 2000 Spinster (2nd)
Inside Information 1995 Spinster (1st)
Paseana 1992 Spinster (2nd)
Bayakoa 1990 Spinster (1st)
Bayakoa 1989 Spinster (1st)
Sacahuista 1987 Spinster (1st)
Life’s Magic 1985 Spinster (2nd)
Princess Rooney 1984 Spinster (1st)
Breeders Cup Juvenile
Horse Year Race (finish)
Street Sense        2006      Breeders’ Futurity (3rd)
Answer Lively     1998      Breeders’ Futurity (2nd)
Favorite Trick     1997      Breeders’ Futurity (1st)
Boston Harbor   1996      Breeders’ Futurity (1st)
Tasso     1985      Breeders’ Futurity (1st)
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies
Horse Year Race (finish)
She Be Wild 2009 Alcibiades (2nd)
Cash Run 1999 Alcibiades (3rd)
Slverbulletday 1998 Alcibiades (1st)
Countess Diana 1997 Alcibiades (1st)
Eliza 1992 Alcibiades (1st)
Epitome* 1987 Alcibiades (2nd)
Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint
Horse Year Race (finish)
Groupie Doll 2013 Thoroughbred Club of America (3rd)
Musical Romance             2011      Thoroughbred Club of America (2nd)
Dubai Majesty 2010 Thoroughbred Club of America (1st)
Informed Decision 2009 Thoroughbred Club of America (1st)
*Epitome raced at Churchill Downs after the Alcibiades


The Breeders' Cup Challenge kicks into high gear this week and fans won't have to wait until the weekend.

On Wednesday, Aug. 20, the Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng-I), with a Win and You're In bid for the Turf (gr. IT), gets things rolling. It is just the first of eight Challenge races through Sunday, Aug. 24.

The schedule ... 

Date Race Track BC auto bid
Aug. 20 Juddmonte International S. York Turf
Aug. 21  Darley Yorkshire Oaks York Filly & Mare Turf
Aug. 22  Personal Ensign H. Saratoga Distaff
Aug. 22  Coolmore Nunthorpe S.  York Turf Sprint
Aug. 23  Ballerina S. Saratoga Filly & Mare Sprint
Aug. 23  Del Mar H. Del Mar Turf
Aug. 24 Pat O’Brien S. Del Mar Dirt Mile
Aug. 24  TVG Pacific Classic Del Mar Classic

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