There’s still no Christmas in July – but now there’s Keeneland racing, thanks to a pandemic that has rendered everything cattywampus.
For the first time in the 85-year history of Keeneland, a race meet will take place during the dog days of summer. The April spring meet canceled by the coronavius crisis has been distilled into five straight days of racing without spectators, starting with a nine-race Wednesday card anchored by a pair of allowances.
A mix of rain and heat is expected to hover in the Lexington, Ky., region throughout the brief stand. Possible thundershowers are in the long-range forecast for the entire week, with high temperatures ranging from the mid-80s to the low-90s. Racing has not been conducted at Keeneland since October, so both the turf and dirt courses are deemed to be in excellent shape.
Ten graded stakes worth more than $2.5 million combined will be run during the meet’s last three days – two Friday, six Saturday, and two Sunday. Four of the stakes are Grade 1 events, although the richest race, the $600,000 Blue Grass, remains a Grade 2. The Blue Grass, part of the huge Saturday card, is a 100-40-20-10 points qualifier toward the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby.
Although fans and most media are being denied admission to the grounds, owners are being accommodated with a number of pandemic-related protocols in place, along with essential personnel, including many of the top jockeys and trainers in North America. TVG will provide extensive live coverage, with their employees being allowed to work on-site. All races will be streamed live at keeneland.com. First post daily is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
In addition to the stakes program, all five cards will include maiden specials with purses starting at $70,000 and allowances starting at $77,000. Purses for non-claiming/starter races include substantial bonuses paid only to registered Kentucky-breds.
Both of the Wednesday co-features are scheduled for the turf, both with full fields. Race 6 is a $77,000 first-level mile for 3-year-olds and up which attracted a field of 12, while race 8 is an $80,000 sprint for 3-year-olds with no conditional restrictions and a field of 11.
Race 8 could be the domain of trainer Wesley Ward, who missed out on his annual tradition of showing off his precocious 2-year-olds when the spring meet was canceled. Ward will saddle the uncoupled pair of Maven and Cambria, both returning from a lengthy layoff in the 5 1/2-furlong dash.
“Keeneland has been kind enough to let us work horses over the turf on occasion,” Ward said. “Both have been training extremely well. It’d be great to get this meet off to a nice start.”
Maven has not raced since back-to-back starts last summer in Europe. The American Pharoah colt has been sent through 19 works, dating all the way back to early February at Turfway Park.
Cambria, the only filly in the lineup, has been similarly busy since getting a short respite following the Breeders’ Cup last November. The Stonestreet Stables homebred has had 16 breezes since late January, starting with five in Florida before Ward shipped her north.
Aside from its regular fall meet in October, Keeneland also is scheduled to host the 37th Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 6-7. This will be its second turn, following the 2015 renewal.
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