Despite selling limited tickets for its 15-day Spring Meet, Keeneland’s just-concluded meet brought a 7.55% handle increase from its 2019 numbers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic scrubbing Keeneland’s 2020 Spring Meet, 2019 represents the last comparable year.

Wesley Ward-Keeneland title 7
After a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic, Wesley Ward returned to his native habitat: winning Keeneland training titles. With 20 victories, the conditioner won his seventh Keeneland Spring Meet title. (Image: Coady Photography)

Headlined by Essential Quality’s Blue Grass Stakes victory, Wesley Ward’s seventh training title and Luis Saez’s first Keeneland riding title, Keeneland’s all-source handle checked in at $164,680,229. That compares to 2019’s $153,116,119, which came over 16 days.

Average daily wagering totals of $10,978,682 jumped 14.72% from 2019’s totals of $9,569,757.

Clues this would be a boon meet for Keeneland came opening weekend. The daily handle for April 3’s Blue Grass Stakes Day came in at $22,723,197. That figure marked the third-highest single-day handle in track history. Bettors piled in on that Derby prep featuring the presumed Derby favorite and five other stakes races on the 11-race card. The Pick 5 from that day’s card clocked a record $1,485,090.

Essential Quality, Malathaat, Juliet Foxtrot stood out

Those horseplayers got action on some good races featuring horses you’ll hear from again. There was Essential Quality’s Blue Grass Stakes victory, where he beat Highly Motivated by a neck. That made the undefeated Champion 2-Year-Old only the fifth horse to capture the Breeders’ Futurity/Blue Grass double.

There was undefeated Malathaat winning the Ashland Oaks, stamping her as a favorite to win the Kentucky Oaks.

There was Raging Bull, proving the third time was indeed charming in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile. He captured the turf stakes by two lengths.

And there was Juliet Foxtrot, going gate-to-wire to take the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley.

Keeneland’s Spring Meet another Ward production

Don’t forget the humans. Ward’s 20 wins not only brought him his seventh meet training title, but tied him with Henry Forrest for third place with seven titles. Four of Ward’s 20 wins came in stakes races: the Grade 1 Madison with Kimari, the Grade 2 Shakertown with Bound for Nowhere, the Grade 3 Beaumont with Twenty Carat and the Listed Palisades Turf Spring with Chasing Artie. That ties the mark for most Spring Meet stakes victories with Ben Jones (1948), Todd Pletcher (2011) and Chad Brown (2018).

Along with that, Ward closed with a flourish. He won four races on closing day, tying him with Kiaran McLaughlin, Bill Mott and Pletcher for most single-day wins by a trainer.

Brad Cox finished a distant second, with 10 wins.

Saez a Spring Meet sensation

Saez’s 29 victories gave him the riding title by seven over Joel Rosario, who piloted three winners on closing day. The pair won all nine stakes opening weekend. As for Rosario, his six stakes victories ties Jerry Bailey (1999) and Javier Castellano (2016) for most Spring Meet stakes victories.

Juddmonte Farm took home its second owner title, sending out six winners, including Juliet Foxtrot’s Jenny Wiley victory and Bonny South’s win in the Doubledogdare Stakes.