By Rich Nilsen
“Keeneland should be the national park of racing,” stated the late Howard Battle, who for four decades served as the Racing Secretary here. “The beauty of spring with the clean, clear air and the blooms of the pears, crab apples and dogwoods are excelled only in October by the yellows, golds, ambers, oranges and reds of the same flora. Besides the aesthetic atmosphere and multitudinous contradictions to most racing establishments – tree-lined parking, one-mile-and-a-sixteenth course, two finish lines, facing the sun, and being near the horses in their natural setting – we are still the best road to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks and now the Breeders’ Cup in the fall.”
Yes, few if any, tracks rival Keeneland in its beauty or history.
In addition to its serene setting, Keeneland offers a unique meet. Handicappers should first understand how the 17-day condition book is written. With few claiming races written, the racing cards cater to the high profile barns that ship in from out of state for the short meet.
The only turf races are allowance events and stakes. To many owners, winning a race at Keeneland is equivalent to capturing multiple events at another track.The Trainers
Many barns point for this meeting and arrive loaded for bear. There are also many fine local trainers who fare exceptionally well during the short meet, and knowing who they are behooves the horseplayer. Data provided by Bloodstock Research Information Services, Inc. (www.brisnet.com).
Amoss, Tom – has won 19% of his 59 starts over the past two years at Keeneland. One of the finest trainers in the Midwest, Amoss wins on any surface and any distance. High percentage moves to watch for include 1st off the claim and moving up in class.
Arnold, George II - is a 24% winner from 46 starts and he excels with dirt sprinters. Arnold has won with 40% of his two-year-old starters over the past three years.
Biancone, Patrick - has more synthetic surface experience than most of the trainers competing here as he has been based at Turfway Park's Polytrack. The Frenchman wins with all types but his specialty is with turf runners.
Binder, Walter - has quietly won 30% of his 27 starts at Keeneland and has scored with 41% of his dirt sprinters. Binder is ultra dangerous with both layoff horses and runners making surface changes.
Blasi, Scott - is the assistant trainer for Steve Asmussen. The Asmussen barn won 19% of their 163 starts since 2004 and is most dangerous with second time starters (36%).
Clement, Christophe - has won with 26% of his starters. This top turf conditioner is a master at having layoff horses prepared to run their best race.
Flint, Steve - has limited stock for this meet but has reached the winner's circle with 19% of his 21 starters. All of those winners have come in dirt sprints.
Foley, Greg - veteran horseman has won at a healthy 26% clip from 23 starters. Foley has been a 38% winner with runners making their second start off a layoff.
Frankel, Robert – has started 40 horses over the past two years and won with 28% of them. Frankel is over a 30% winner in two turn races, dirt or turf.
Howard, Neil – is best with dirt routers and shippers. Howard has won 26% from 54 starts, many at nice prices.
Kimmel, John - excels with runners making distance and surfaces switches. Kimmel has been a 32% winner from 31 starters.
McGaughey, Shug - has won with 44% of his dirt sprinters but is dangerous with all types. Last year he parlayed a second place finish by Pleasant Home in the Spinster into a runaway longshot win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Motion, Graham - best known as an expert turf conditioner but he consistently wins with all types (26% overall). The Maryland-based horseman has won with 43% of his two-year-old starters.
Mott, William – has won with 15% of his 59 starts over the past two years. Mott’s best profitable angle is first time Lasix horses.
Pletcher, Todd - one of the nation's winningest trainers has scored 31% at Keeneland. The former D.Wayne Lukas protégé wins over 40% with both first time starters and layoff runners.
Romans, Dale – has won 14% from 85 Keeneland starts but, surprisingly, has had only 7% winners in dirt sprints.
Stewart, Dallas – a 14% winner from 86 starters overall is only 4% with turf runners.
Zito, Nick - always get his stable in peak form as indicated by his 28% winners from 123 starters. The New York-native loves to drop claimers sharply in price and win (43%). Zito also excels with two year olds and turf-to-dirt runners.The Jockeys
At meets such as Keeneland, the majority of the races are won by the high-profile riders. Rafael Bejarno and Robby Albarado are the ones most frequently having their picture taken in the winner’s circle. Leading riders at tracks such as River Downs often find winning much harder when the “big names” arrive in town.
Bejarano won 30 races last fall, followed by Albarado with 16 wins. Shaun Bridgmohan rounded out the third spot by winning 14 races. But look for polytrack-proficient rider Julien Leparoux to be easily among the leading riders.Breeders’ Cup Preps
The highlights of the fall meeting are the Juddmonte Spinster-G1 (Oct. 8), Queen Elizabeth II Challenge-G1 (Oct. 14), Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity-G1 (Oct. 7), Shadwell Turf Mile-G1 (Oct. 7), Darley Alcibiades-G2 (Oct. 6), Phoenix Breeders’ Cup-G3 (Oct. 7), and the First Lady-G2 (Oct. 14), formerly known as the Winstar Galaxy.
A first or second-place finish in the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes makes one a top contender for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. No less than 10 winners have come out of the Spinster to win racing’s championship event for fillies and mares.
The Keeneland meeting is an important stepping stone on the road to the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Twenty three runners have prepped here during the fall meet before winning a Breeders’ Cup event.
-- Rich Nilsen won a $51,000 allowance race during the 1999 fall Keeneland meet with his turf horse Lydio. Two years later Rich won the Keeneland handicapping contest, qualifying for Las Vegas where he finished 8th in the National Championship.
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