The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously approved Keeneland’s request to run a five-day, spectator-free summer meet in July, giving the Lexington racetrack back five days from its original 16-day spring meet. That meet became a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keeneland Gets Summer Days
Keeneland will open its starting gate this summer for a limited, but loaded, July meet. (Image: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Keeneland’s abbreviated meet is scheduled for July 8-12 and is loaded with quality races. The track plans running nine or 10 races each day, including 10 graded stakes races usually run during Keeneland’s spring meet. Chief among those are the Grade 2 Blue Grass – a key Kentucky Derby prep – and the Grade 1 Ashland, which is one of the biggest Kentucky Oaks preps.

The 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass and 1 1/16-mile Ashland are both scheduled for July 11, a day also featuring the 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 Jenny Wiley for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up, and the Grade 1 Madison, a seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up. The other Grade 1 race is the July 10 Makers Mark Mile for 4-year-old colts and up.

“These Stakes races are important targets on the racing calendar for owners and breeders alike,” said Bob Elliston, Keeneland’s vice president for racing and sales. “The purses of some stakes, as well as maiden special weight and allowance races, are reduced from planned 2020 spring meet levels.”

Mutual Agreement Between Rival Kentucky Tracks

The go-ahead to resume racing came a week after Keeneland officials and Ellis Park officials agreed on a plan to split the summer meet into three parts. Ellis Park traditionally plays host to the state’s summer racing meet, but will now open its meet on June 28, pause for a week for Keeneland, and then resume. Ellis Park’s meet ends Aug. 30.

Ellis Park remains the host track during the Keeneland hiatus. Jeff Inman, the general manager of Ellis Park, told Bloodhorse that Ellis Park will earn revenue from those missing race dates through a revenue-sharing plan.

This isn’t the first time during the coronavirus pandemic that Ellis Park played the good soldier for Kentucky horse racing. The track gave necessary approval to Churchill Downs taking the first week of September for its Derby Week of racing.

Ellis Park’s Generosity Makes Track History

In turn, Churchill Downs officials reciprocated by making the Ellis Park Derby an 85-point (50-20-10-5) Derby Trail stop. That marks the first time in Ellis Park’s 98-year history it plays host to a Derby prep.

“Keeneland appreciates the quick response of the commission to our request, and we applaud all their work on behalf of Kentucky racing during these unprecedented times,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said in a release. “We also thank Ellis Park for their cooperation in this process, and for making these non-traditional dates available to Keeneland.”

Keeneland can afford to bide its time this year. It gets the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 6-7.