Say It Isn’t So….

by Ed Meyer

posted on January 26, 2009 in General Discussion, News | No Comments >>

Like the majority of the Thoroughbred industry, Keeneland continues to feel the strain of the current economic struggles.

Less than a week after its January Horses of All Ages sale concluded with across-the-board declines, Keeneland announced Friday it was dropping two stakes races from its Spring Meet and reducing its total stakes purses by $600,000.

Two stakes — the $100,000 Lafayette and $150,000 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings — were not scheduled for 2009. The Lafayette Stakes was a listed stakes for 3-year-olds contested over seven furlongs while the Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings was a Grade I Steeplechase race run over 2 1/2 miles.

“It’s a combination of factors (that led to the cuts),” said Jim Williams, director of communications for Keeneland. “Most certainly the economy is a factor as well as the loss of some sponsors and also the decline of our sales, which contribute a great deal to our purse structure.

“We continually look at the stakes schedule each year and we’ve been disappointed in the quality of the field for the Lafayette in recent years,” Williams continued. “That led to that decision and there were several factors with the Royal Chase including some scheduling conflicts.”

The Keeneland November sale had its gross decline by more than 45 percent, while the January sale had its gross fall off by 53.4 percent.

Keeneland isn’t the only track that has been stung by the current economic hardships.

Last August, Churchill Downs announced it was reducing $975,000 from its 2008 Fall Meet program, and then further cut overnight purses by 10 percent once the meet got under way.

Overall, the total handle on U.S. races declined by 7.2 percent in 2008 to $14,723,993,055 — the lowest handle since 1998.

Williams said he did not anticipate Keeneland making further cuts to the Spring Meet and could not forecast if any reductions would be in line for its fall schedule.

A total of 17 stakes (15 of which are graded), worth a total of $3.8 million, will still be contested during Keeneland’s Spring Meet, which runs from April 3-24.

The $300,000 Vinery Madison, for fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and upward, at seven furlongs, will be contested as a Grade I for the first time this season, after being elevated from Grade II status.

The highlight of the annual meet is the Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes for 3-year-olds on April 11th, one of the major stops on the Kentucky Derby trail.

The Spring Meet includes two other Grade I events, the $400,000 Ashland Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on April 4th, and the $300,000 Maker’s Mark Mile for 4-year-olds and up on April 10th.

The purse for the Ashland was reduced by $100,000.

Among the supporting features on Blue Grass Day is the $250,000 Grade II Commonwealth Stakes for 3-year-olds and upward. The purse was reduced $150,000 from last year.

The $150,000 Grade II Beaumont Stakes has been reduced by $100,000, while the Grade III Shakertown Stakes, the Grade III Appalachian Stakes, the Grade III Doubledogdare Stakes, and the Grade II Coolmore Lexington were each reduced by $25,000.

“We’re still going to have a very strong, very diverse stakes schedule,” Williams said. “While the total numbers may be down from last year, we’re very confident it will attract the same quality horses and jockeys that it has each spring.”