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How Keeneland Conquered the Breeders’ Cup

How Keeneland Conquered the Breeders’ Cup: Skeptics understandably questioned the decision for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to run at Keeneland. Despite the general glowing praise of the racetrack, the facility is on the smaller side with less parking. The Breeders’ Cup consistently attracts a large number of attendees, and it is not easy to please everyone.

Breeders' Cup Keeneland

Keeneland earns high marks for this year’s edition, and deserves another chance to welcome home the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in the future.
Breeders’ Cup Photo ©

While hosting hiccups are part of any popular event, Keeneland handled most issues well.

Ahmed Zayat, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) with his horse American Pharoah, gave the venue glowing praise. He pointed out the difference in Lexington racing fans compared to other cities.

Zayat said during the Classic press conference, “I walk in here and every single person I met at the door coming in, not executive, not top guys, but simple people, who are working the gates (told me), ‘Thank you for coming to Keeneland.’”

“I felt how this town … embraced and celebrated racing.”

Jerry Crawford, president of Donegal Racing (owner of Classic contender Keen Ice), held the same sentiment.

“Keeneland was a very different experience,” Crawford explained. “They had a good plan and executed it well. No traffic issues at all. They should hire out to Santa Anita to handle the traffic!”

Santa Anita Park will host the 2016 Breeders’ Cup.

In addition to Zayat and Crawford, “At the Races” radio show host Steve Byk turned in a few positive thoughts.

“Keeneland certainly did everything in their power to accommodate the players and patrons, and it seems that other than some problematic areas, most had good experiences,” Byk wrote through a message.

To be fair, Byk also wrote about how some fans missed American Pharoah because of the limited tickets available. But, he understood the importance of giving “the cradle of American breeding and sales” a chance.

Brock Lance, a residential sales manager from Indiana, came into the Breeders’ Cup with a general admission badge and commented on the ability to move around Keeneland.

“It was perfect, not crowded at all. I was able to be right on the rail with … a pole to go,” Lance described. “Everyone was given multiple ticket windows, up to six bartenders and fifteen or so self-service ticket machines.”

“Buying the parking ticket was key. We were a ten minute walk from the grassy parking (in between the hill and gate) to the front entrance. Traffic was not terrible at all after the day of racing.”

A local, younger woman named Lydia Grace Epner worked near the gap by the first turn, helping friends who were ponying horses for each post parade. She offered her words on the Keeneland Breeders’ Cup.

“The crowd control is really good,” Epner said. “There are no lines at betting windows. The pony riders were able to leave between races, come back and get to their ponies.”

“The pony coordination is excellent. (Specifically) the internal coordination with their people and the security.”

She also commented on a smaller aspect fans will not notice.

“The (barn) maintenance is really good … better than any track.”

Down in the auxiliary press box on Day 1, photo journalist Spencer Tulis gave his opinion on Keeneland as a Breeders’ Cup host. He briefly criticized the parking, but praised all other aspects.

“Once you got here … great job,” he said. “Everything else was fine. Other than (parking), I think they did a good job.”

Will this racetrack get another chance at running the Breeders’ Cup? As Zayat suggested, fans treat horse racing differently in Lexington. They love horses. Champions are born and raised around here. For Lexington, the Breeders’ Cup works as an all-week celebration the city unites behind.

The smaller problems are workable. Keeneland earns high marks for this year’s edition, and deserves another chance to welcome home the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in the future.