Fall racing returns to Keeneland as the annual October season gets ready to open for the 17-raceday, boutique meet from Friday, Oct. 7 to Saturday, Oct. 29. Keeneland will attract big fields and quality horses befitting the world epicenter of Thoroughbred horse racing in Lexington, Ky. Plus, this year racing will extend another weekend at Keeneland as the Breeders’ Cup World Championships meeting returns to Lexington on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4-5.
Fans at Keeneland look for a winner. (Penelope P. Miller/America’s Best Racing)
Keeneland’s 22 stakes races include six Grade 1 races – five of which are run on opening weekend, Oct. 7-9. Saturday, Oct. 8, alone will offer five graded stakes with three Grade 1s. There will be no other track more important in terms of Breeders’ Cup races than Keeneland, firstly because it will be the 2022 host track, and secondly because the track will host nine “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races during its opening weekend.
When looking ahead to the Breeders’ Cup, it is important to remember that the winners of more than 40 Breeders’ Cup races down through the years have made their final prep at Keeneland’s Fall Meet. Keeneland’s most productive preps in that regard, historically, have been the Thoroughbred Cub of America (Filly and Mare Sprint), Juddmonte Spinster (Distaff), Coolmore Turf Mile (Mile), Darley Alcibiades (Juvenile Fillies), and Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (Juvenile).
Keeneland’s fall season is compact and the meet’s stakes are front-loaded as Breeders’ Cup preps, so after the opening-week fireworks subside, there is only one Grade 1 left on the schedule: the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes Presented by Dixiana on Saturday, Oct. 15. So, while the stakes races are a nice bonus, the fall meet is really about day-to-day meat and potatoes handicapping. The time is now for horseplayers to start brushing up on some of the things they need to know to make money at this fall’s marquee race meet.
Keeneland Top Fall Jockeys
The jockey standings at Keeneland look different in the fall than they do at the spring meet. This past spring, Tyler Gaffalione beat out Irad Ortiz Jr. for the riding title 19 wins to 18. The rest of the top 5 was comprised of Flavien Prat, Luiz Saez, and Joel Rosario – jockeys who will mostly focus on Belmont at the Big A in the fall after Keeneland’s opening weekend. This season’s final jockey standings will probably more resemble leaders from the last Keeneland fall meet in October 2021. That’s very likely to mean another meet riding title for Tyler Gaffalione (29 wins last fall) and a top five that will include Florent Geroux (16 wins), Brian Hernandez Jr. (12 wins) James Graham (8 wins), and Corey Lanerie (8 wins), not to mention 2019 Keeneland fall meet leader Julien Leparoux, and 2017 Keeneland fall champion Ricardo Santana Jr.
Keeneland Fall Trainer Trends
Brad Cox (Eclipse Sportswire)
Just like in the jockey trends, the top trainers at the upcoming Keeneland meet are more likely to resemble the standings from the 2021 fall meet than they are to be like the trainer’s standings from recent spring meets. For example, trainers like Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, and Bill Mott tend to win a lot of races in the spring but much fewer Keeneland races in the fall, except when they win stakes.
The defending top trainer at the Keeneland fall meet is Brad Cox, who topped Wesley Ward 14 wins to 13 when both barns enjoyed exceptional fall seasons in 2021. Cox won with 29% of his starters and Ward with 34%, so those are definitely two trainers you want to put at the top of your list. The rest of last year’s top 5 was Ken PcPeek (9 wins), Mike Maker (8 wins), and Brendan Walsh (7 wins), and that group again figures to do well this fall. In terms of win percentage, based on stats from fall 2021, trainers to bet include Brown (26%, 74% ITM), Eddie Kenneally (25%), Larry Jones (3-for-10, 70% ITM), John Ennis (3-for-10), and Norm Casse (3-for-10).
If you are wondering where Steve Asmussen is on this list. Fall 2021 at Keeneland is a meet he would like to forget. His starters went 1-for-57. Others who flopped last fall included Victoria Oliver (2-for-28) and Ian Wilkes (1-for-36).
Going back two fall meets ago in 2020, Cox was leading trainer with a 15-for-39 (38%) mark, followed by Maker who went 12-for-48 (25%).
Preferred Running Styles and Post Positions
When analyzing the preferred Keeneland main track running styles, horses would seem to have their best chances to win by staying within two lengths of the lead at the first call in sprints, and within four lengths of the lead at the first call in routes. Keeneland often features a good rail on the main track and handicappers need to factor that into their picks. In dirt sprints, post No. 1 can be expected to win about 15%. For example, at the 2022 spring meet the rail post accounted for 12 wins in 59 dirt sprints for a 21% win percentage. Horses can win sprints from anywhere in the starting gate, but the inside posts 1-4 offer the best chances.
In Keeneland dirt routes, front-runners also do well, particularly at the 1 1/16-mile distance, with about 20% of those winners going wire-to-wire. In addition to speed and tactical speed, the other thing you want in dirt routes is an inside post. The inside four post positions do the best.
Keeneland Turf Trends
One of the main staples of the quality day-to-day racing at Keeneland is the great turf racing, which features big fields and plenty of good value on the tote board.
Keeneland turf course (Eclipse Sportswire)
In terms of running style preferences on the Keeneland turf, it’s better to stay on or close to the pace than it is to try to come from too far back. The majority of winners lead or have gotten within 2 ½ lengths of the front at the half-mile marker. Closers have their best chance on the grass in races at 1 1/8 miles and beyond.
Post positions are important handicapping factors on the Keeneland grass course. In turf routes, inside posts are best with posts 1-4 winning the most. The far outside posts are not great at most distances on the Keeneland grass. Based on a large sample size in turf routes run at Keeneland since the fall of 2014, various posts 1-7 yield between 10-14% win percentages, but there is a steep drop-off after that in terms of winning percentages. The least advantageous distance for outside posts is at one mile, and the absolute worst posts for all turf routes at Keeneland are posts 10 and outward. Those posts combined to go 0-for-47 a few years ago and have been only slightly better ever since. At the 2022 spring meet, horses breaking from posts 10 and out took the collar, going winless from 48 starters.
Keeneland doesn’t card very many turf sprints. There were 15 such races at both the 2021 and 2022 spring meets, and there is a similar amount is in the condition book this fall. With stats in these races going back to 2006 you can build a Keeneland turf sprint winning profile despite the fact they don’t run many annually. Based on the long-term figures, off-the-pace runners that rally from between two lengths and six lengths behind with a half-mile to run tend to do well. However, tactical speed has improved in results from the most recent meets. Lately, most of the winners had already gotten to the lead or within 2 ½ lengths of the front by the time then entered the stretch. In terms of turf sprint post positions, 12 of the 15 winners last year broke from posts 1-5. At the Keeneland 2022 spring meet, starters drawn in posts 8 and out went a combined 1-for-55 in turf sprints.
Have a successful fall season of racing and wagering, and enjoy the best the sport has to offer at the Keeneland fall meet. Best of luck.