For lovers of racing, little compares to an afternoon (or evening) at the track. The sport is best experienced in the flesh, and the world’s race courses offer diverse ways to enjoy this pursuit. While we can’t literally transport you to the races, we’ll do our best to bring these tracks to you in a monthly series of profiles. Today, the third of four installments in a delightful and expansive report on Keeneland Race Course by Glenye Cain Oakford.
AT THE MUTUEL WINDOWS
As is the norm in America, wagering at Keeneland is all pari-mutuel. There’s some variety in possible wagers (although visitors from bookmaking countries might miss such delectable options as the photo-finish bet). The usual win, place, and show wagers are available (for a minimum $1 bet) on every race, as are $1 exactas. Other exotic wagers include 50-cent trifectas on races with at least six betting interests; 10-cent superfectas on races with at least eight betting interests; 50-cent Pick Three, Pick Four, and Pick Five wagers; $1 Rolling Doubles; and a $1 Super High Five on races with at least eight betting interests. The takeout on win, place, and show bets is 16 percent, but, as is usual at North American tracks, exotic wagers take a bigger takeout hit at 19 percent.
Bettors can make their wagers with a teller at one of the betting windows or at a self-serve machine, and in recent years, Keeneland also has instituted “drive-through” betting, which is just what it sounds like: Patrons sit in their cars, pull up to a row of betting kiosks located near the main paved parking area, and place their bets with a teller. As at the grandstand window, lines are common at the drive-through kiosks, too, and you can expect significant waits on big race days, such as Blue Grass Stakes day. If you’re in the clubhouse, there are betting windows in the dining rooms, and the lines are shorter there.
Keeneland puts a strong emphasis on fan education and customer service, and they excel at this. Inexperienced bettors can check in for help at Wagering Central on the grandstand’s first floor, where a team of “Betologists” stand by to answer questions about reading past performances, placing bets, and other wagering-related (and Keeneland-related) queries. In addition, about 15 Betologists disperse among the crowd, ready to advise any patron who catches their attention. They’re easy to spot in their special hats and vests.
Keeneland uses the Trakus data system to electronically track runners in real time, and its website has a sortable, downloadable database it calls its “Polycapping Database,” an additional handicapping tool that “allows handicappers to choose the criteria he or she thinks is important when wagering on Keeneland live racing,” according to Keeneland’s promotional information. The stats include the weather during past races and a horse’s position at key race markers, as well as other data points.
Even during the winter months when the track isn’t racing live, Keeneland simulcasts about five tracks daily, and simulcasting also takes place during live meets. The simulcast schedule is available on the track’s website.
If you can’t make it there in person, Keeneland offers account wagering through its Keeneland Select program, which is free to join and gets you free past performances, race replays, and live streaming from tracks around the world via Keeneland Select TV online.
Keeneland’s average daily all-sources handle was $10,124,413 at last year’s spring meet and $8,411,721 in the fall. Average daily handle for the year was $9,268,067, a jump of nearly 7 percent from 2012’s average daily handle figure for both meets, $8,680,105. Most of the track’s annual wagering revenue comes from interstate simulcasting, which averaged $7,692,404 in 2013, as compared to the combined on-track/simulcast imports average of $1,325,849.
Keeneland’s generally high-class racing is highlighted by 33 stakes races (16 in the spring and 17 in the fall), and 30 of those are graded. The meets have long drawn fashionable stables traveling the East Coast New York-to-Florida circuit, as well as Kentucky-based horses and shippers from the Midwest and beyond. Keeneland’s racing is perhaps most famous for its Kentucky Derby prep race, the Blue Grass Stakes, but the racing calendar also draws splendidly bred juveniles and handicap stars, and it is a particularly strong venue for distaff racing.
Tomorrow's final installment: Must-see destinations at Keeneland.