Change is Coming – Fall 2014

Keeneland has come a long way from eight races, one daily double, and no announcer. Now that was ancient ages ago, but the track that is branded  “Racing as it was meant to be” has taken a big step. Long ago, change was a nasty word for the beautiful Lexington track. They have proven they are innovators on every front of racing.

I cut my teeth on the dirt oval in Lexington, Kentucky. It had the best-of-the best entering  races, and what memories they created for this horse player. I’m sure I’m not alone as many used to love the speed favoring bias. But Keeneland has had this on the burner for quite awhile. When you watch the Bluegrass Stakes next week, take a look at the field. There will be some quality entries looking for one of the last 100-40-20-10 point races to get a spot in the Kentucky Derby. – How many big outfits will one again target the Bluegrass Stakes as a final stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby gate? Do you think it will boost the star power for next year?

According to the Daily Racing Form article by Marty McGee: “Construction is set to begin on May 19, and a completion date of August 15th.” I wouldn’t be looking for that old dirt oval which was a conveyor belt for speed runners. When Keeneland makes major changes, you can bet dollars to donuts that they have done their homework. “Keeneland joins Santa Anita, which reverted to dirt in 2010, and Del Mar, which will scrap Polytrack after its 2014 meet, as iconic North American tracks that installed a synthetic track as its main racing surface, only to dispose of it after a relatively short period. While the number of synthetic tracks in North America peaked at nine by early 2008, there will be only five after this year: Arlington Park, Golden Gate Fields, Presque Isle Downs, Woodbine, and Turfway Park.”

We are just days away from the kickoff of the spring meet. I’m sure there will be plenty who will miss the synthetic revolution, and there will be plenty of handicappers waiting to see how the new surface will play. Keeneland president Bill Thomason said the Polytrack surface, first used for racing at the 2006 fall meet, will be replaced by a “state-of-the-art” dirt surface using locally mined material composed of sand, clay, and silt, and that track officials strongly feel that safety is not being compromised “in any way” after conducting “diligent research” into the new surface;” according to the Daily Racing Form interview.

There has always been great concern about safety for the equine athletes and riders. I also think feel that Keeneland is ready to toss their hat into the ring for big events.

“This is something we have looked at very seriously. We’ve been doing research on every element of the racetrack for the last year, so it’s not a decision that’s been made lightly. It’s not a decision made without a lot of thought from all of us. We’ve told everyone, including our board members, that we weren’t going to change unless we were 100 percent confident in this next-generation surface,” said Thomason.

Thomason said a recent statement by Keeneland that the track is seriously considering making a bid to host a Breeders’ Cup in the near future was not a major consideration in replacing the surface.

The track that magically appears 15-16 days every April and October, once again proves it is one-of-a-kind. I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road ahead, and if we think back to the installation of the Poly Track. How long did it take for bettors to finally adjust to the surface? How many were going to give up on betting the oval? Well, they got used to it, and the learning curve was quick. It won’t take near as long to allow players to adjust to the original surface again. Kudos, Keeneland. I think many players will welcome the new addition, and I would love to think about the Breeders’ Cup being held on the historic grounds of Keeneland. They’ll take baby steps, and look to the future. After all, that was the original idea behind Keeneland.