Keeneland Concept: “A Dream That Could Be Realised”?
Featured Image: Keeneland Racecourse
On an earlier occasion I wrote a detailed account of the evolution of a new racecourse at Scone. I called it ‘Dreams’. This is an excerpt focusing on our pathway emulating the ‘Keeneland Concept’ in the United States. We wish? Like I said before all comparisons are odious.
On one of his frequent visits to the Upper Hunter Valley, Emeritus Professor Rex Butterfield, President of the Australian Equine Research Foundation and Keeneland (USA) representative in Australia, remarked on the similarity of events at that time to the genesis of the “Keeneland Concept” in Kentucky in 1936. The date was sometime in the early 1980’s and the Upper Hunter was witness to a flurry of activity in the development of thoroughbred racing and breeding in the district, possibly unprecedented, even in the benchmark industries so important historically to the locality.
In his concluding remarks addressed to a mass meeting of breeders and others interested in racing at the Lafayette Hotel on Wednesday afternoon March 20, 1935 Major Louie A. Beard said:
“This may seem like a dream, but I believe it is a dream that can be realised”. The Thoroughbred Record (USA): October 10 1936.
The meeting witnessed by Professor Butterfield was held at the Scone Bowling Club. It was a gathering of like-minded people representing the fledgling Hunter Valley Bloodhorse Breeders Association (HVBHBA) and inevitably the local racing industry. The significance of the astute Professor’s observations as we approach the closing of White Park Racecourse (22/10/94 and 24/10/94) and the opening date (18/11/94) of the new course at Satur can now be placed in true perspective. Actually the rebirth of the new track is in fact a return after a lapse of around100 years, to racing in the Satur locality. As detailed in Daniel Morgan’s excellent thesis The Reality of the Turf: Scone’s Colonial Horse Racing, 1842 – 1900 first class racing was held at Mr. Frederick Augustus Parbury’s property from 1892 – 1915 under the auspices of the Scone Jockey Club.
The committee might very well consider the aspirations of Hal Price Headley, on the day before Keeneland opened its 1937 spring meeting, who stated:
We want a place where those who love horses can come and picnic with us and thrill to the sport of the Bluegrass. We are not running a race plant to hear the click of the mutuel machines. We don’t care whether the people who come here bet or not. If they want to bet there is a place for them to do it. But we want them to come out here to enjoy God’s sunshine, the fresh air, and to watch horses race.
Clearly, in today’s climate, some of that logic is questionable. However, the ideals and principles are highly commendable.
The passion for horses may be ridiculed by persons of narrow mindedness and sedentary lives; but the feeling has ever been characteristic of the most intellectual and powerful races of mankind, and the highest order of literature and art has been inspired by the contemplation of this admirable gift of the creator. (Sydney Morning Herald, October 3, 1857).
Keeneland includes the Keeneland Racecourse, a Thoroughbred horse racing facility, and a sales complex, both in Lexington, Kentucky. Operated by the Keeneland Association, Inc., it is also known for its reference library.
In 2009, the Horseplayers Association of North America introduced a rating system for 65 Thoroughbred racetracks in North America. Keeneland was ranked #1 of the top ten tracks. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Keeneland was founded in 1936 as a nonprofit racing–auction entity on 147 acres (0.59 km2) of farmland west of Lexington, which had been owned by Jack Keene, a driving force behind the building of the facility. It has used proceeds from races and its auctions to further the thoroughbred industry as well as to contribute to the surrounding community.
The racing side of Keeneland, Keeneland Race Course, has conducted live race meets in April and October since 1936. The 15-day spring meet is one of the richest in North America, with fifteen graded stakes races featuring the Blue Grass Stakes, a prep race for the Kentucky Derby. The 17-day fall meet features seventeen graded stakes races, six of which are Grade One events used as Breeders’ Cup preps.
Keeneland takes pride in maintaining racing traditions; it was the last track in North America to broadcast race calls over its public-address system, not doing so until 1997. Most of the racing scenes of the 2003 movie Seabiscuit were shot at Keeneland, in part because of the track’s “retro feel”. Keeneland was also used in the 2005 movie ‘Dreamer’ and the 2010 movie ‘Secretariat’ for several key scenes, including the running of the Belmont Stakes where the horse completes the Triple Crown.
Nonetheless, Keeneland has adopted several innovations. In 1984 in preparation for a visit by Queen Elizabeth II, it built a trackside Winner’s Circle and created the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes. In 1985, it installed a turf course over which the Challenge Cup, as well as a number of other turf races, is now run. It reshaped the main track and replaced the dirt surface with the proprietary Polytrack surface over the summer of 2006 in time for its fall race meeting. The track was restored to a dirt racing surface during the summer of 2014.
Keeneland was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Keeneland hosted the Breeders’ Cup for the first time in 2015. The Breeders’ Cup Classic was won by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah by six and a half lengths. He became the first to win the unofficial Grand Slam of horse racing; winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Many horse industry personal were skeptical of Keeneland as a suitable venue because the track and town were too small to host such a large event. However it was a huge success and even had a Thoroughbred Daily News writer report “I was wrong…it was spectacular” and how he “couldn’t be more impressed”.
Main article: Keeneland Sales
Keeneland is the world’s largest Thoroughbred auction house, conducting three sales annually: The September Yearling Sale, November Breeding Stock Sale, and January Horses of All Ages Sale. Horses sold at Keeneland sales include 82 horses that won 88 Breeders’ Cup World Championship races; 19 Kentucky Derby winners; 21 Preakness winners; 18 Belmont winners; 11 recipients of the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year; and five Epsom Derby winners.
Graduates of Keeneland Sales
The Keeneland Team travels to over 25 countries and invests in over $700,000 annually towards international market development to deliver the world’s deepest buying bench. The auctions have sold houses to owners world-wide that have won large-scale races. Nine of the 14 highest ranked horses in the Kentucky Oakes were sold in sales through Keeneland.
The track has a 1 1⁄16 miles (1,700 m) dirt oval and a seven and one-half furlong (0.875 miles (1,408 m)) turf oval. The turf course uses two configurations: the Keeneland Course setup has a temporary rail set 15 feet (4.6 m) out, while the Haggin Course has no temporary rail.