With opening weekend at Keeneland past us, I figured I should share some observations I made.
First, let's look at the running styles that have been effective on the new dirt, looking at how speed, stalkers and closers do in sprints and routes. Speed is anything on or within a length of the lead at the 1/4, stalkers are anything 1 1/4-5 lengths at the 1/4 and closers are anything further than 5 lengths back at the 1/4.
Speed - 6/6 on Friday, 1/3 on Saturday, 2/2 on Sunday, 9/11 (82%)
Stalkers - 0/6 on Friday, 2/3 on Saturday, 0/2 on Sunday, 2/11 (18%)
Closers - 0/6 on Friday, 0/3 on Saturday, 0/2 on Sunday, 0/11
Speed - 0/4 on Friday, 1/4 on Saturday, 1/5 on Sunday, 2/13 (15.5%)
Stalkers - 2/4 on Friday, 3/4 on Saturday, 2/5 on Sunday, 7/13 (54%)
Closers - 2/4 on Friday, 0/4 on Saturday, 2/5 on Sunday, 4/13 (30.5%)
Shockingly enough, if you're not on or near the front in a sprint, you're pretty much screwed. This is standard dirt stuff. Route races have not been very kind to speed at this point, which is somewhat surprising considering the short stretch in 8.5 furlong races.
Handle has not been particularly stellar. At all. Opening day's handle totaled $7,530,007, down 24.2% from 2013's $9,931,006. Saturday's handle was $13,853,088, a 1.5% increase from 2013's $13,665,851. Sunday'd ten race card did $8,040,179 (according to my calculation), a 7% increase from the nine race 2013 $7,494,090. However, average handle per race on Sunday was down 3.5%. Total handle for opening weekend was $29,426,013 compared to 2013's $31,090,947, down 5.4%, with average handle per race totaling $980,867, a 9.5% drop.
Field size has also taken a hit. Friday's average field size was 8.3, down from 10.8 last year. Saturday's average field size was 8.8, down from 9.3. Sunday's average field size was 8, down from 10.1. Total average field size in 8.35, a 17% drop from 10.05 at this point last year.
While watching the races, I theorized that having a work over the new dirt surface would be a big advantage in the dirt races, as this surface is quite different to any other dirt surface in the world. So I decided to take a look at how many dirt races were won by horses with a work over the track. On opening Friday, four of ten winners had a workout on the surface. On Saturday, one of seven dirt winners had a workout over the surface. One out of seven dirt winners on Sunday had a workout over the surface. That's a total of six winners in 24 races, 25%, not as high as I had expected.
Peace and War was very impressive in the Alcibiades. I know that the pace was very fast and quite contested, but she was nowhere in the early stages and had to steady at the 3/16ths. I was surprised at her odds as well. Sure, Euros coming over and trying dirt is a bit concerning, but she was bred in Florida, not Europe. A lot of American bred horses who race in Europe do perfectly fine when they come over and run on dirt. They do tend to be bred for it.
Wise Dan's Shadwell Mile was probably the most impressive Wise Dan race I can think of. Nothing went his way trip wise, and down the stretch I thought he was going to be off the board, but he really looked fantastic rallying. He truly is a special horse.
Ria Antonia impressed me running second to Don't Tell Sophia in the Spinster. I feel like Ria has gotten a lot of undeserved flack. Minus the Preakness I don't think she's been as poorly managed as people make it out to be, and her last couple of races before the Spinster weren't as bad as they looked when you consider some of the not so good trips she's gotten. She's definitely not a great filly, but she has more ability than people give her credit for. She put away Close Hatches yesterday and still got second. The Don't Tell Sophia story is pretty neat too. She was purchased for $1,000, and is now an 11 time winner in 22 starts with a Grade I and a Grade II to her name and almost $1,000,000 in earnings. When you look at her running lines you see that she can close into painfully slow fractions pretty easily. This is a nice mare. I can't wait to see how she does in the Breeder's Cup.
Was this a great opening weekend? Product wise, not really. Quality of racing wise, absolutely. The big Stakes races were terrific. Was it interesting? Depends on your viewpoint. For bettors, not as interesting as it should have been. For observers, fascinating, at least to me. I really enjoyed watching the numbers and the new surface to see how it would compare to the polytrack and other dirt surfaces. It will certainly be fun to see how things change as more races are run over the new track.
Have a great day!