When Breeders' Cup and Keeneland officials announced in June 2014 that the Lexington track would host the 2015 edition of the World Championships, most believed that the Dirt Mile (gr. I) race would be offered at two turns and 1 1/16 miles or one-turn on Keeneland's Beard Course, which measures seven furlongs and 184 feet.
But thanks to some creative thinking, communication with top riders and trainers, and efforts to measure the distance to the first turn, this year's Dirt Mile will be contested at the mile distance, well close to it. There will be a 210-foot run-up (distance from the gate until official timing begins), which technically makes it a one-mile and 70-yard race but the consensus is that the set-up keeps the distance in line with a mile event while being fair to competitors.
Keeneland vice president of racing Rogers Beasley said about a dozen riders, as well as Jockeys' Guild officials, and Breeders' Cup officials went out to the track in the spring and observed the gate placed at a couple of potential run-up distances, one at 50 yards and one at 70 yards. The riders were most comfortable with the 70-yard run-up.
Breeders' Cup officials noted that the distance was measured from the gate to the first turn. With the 70-yard runup, the distance to the first turn is 463 feet, which officials said is longer than the distance to the first turn when the Dirt Mile has been contested at Santa Anita Park, which has featured a 172-foot run-up the past three seasons. (An earlier version of this story had an 80-foot run-up at Santa Anita, but a check of Equibase charts confirmed a 172-foot run-up.)
The field will be limited to 12 starters instead of 14.
Breeders' Cup senior vice president of racing Dora Delgado said after those measurements and meetings, the riders were comfortable with the distance.
"We found that actually we have more distance to the first turn than we do at Santa Anita," Delgado said. "That kind of changed everyone's perception. Now we do have a long run-up, but they were all comfortable with the distance and felt like everybody would have enough time to jockey for position before they get to the turn."
Beasley said Keeneland officials are talking about carding a main-track race or two at this new mile distance during the fall meeting but that has not been finalized. He said it has been many, many years since Keeneland has offered a one-mile race on its main track.
Breeders' Cup Challenge races and schedule
Leading Breedes' Cup Challenge sires, 2015
2015 Breeders' Cup Challenge winners by state, province, or country bred
In an October issue of Blood-Horse Magazine, I'll look at all the distances and some of the quirks--two main-track finish lines--of a Breeders' Cup at Keeneland.
On a completely different note ...
In the September 26 issue of Blood-Horse Magazine, I examined the lack of quality assurance programs for testing labs used by the industry. Here's a chance to check out that story.