Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Committee Approves Keeneland Summer Meet

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Horses race on the turf course at Keeneland in this fall 2019 file photo. (Keeneland/Coady Photography)

During a May 27 video conference, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Race Dates Committee unanimously approved a request from Keeneland to run a five-day spectatorless summer meet from July 8-12.

The summer dates fill a portion of the Lexington track’s 16-day spring meet that was canceled due to COVID-19.

The authorization was anticipated after the Lexington track had reached an agreement last week with Ellis Park, which hosts the state’s traditional summer race dates and various horsemen’s groups. Ellis Park will now pause its meet for a week before resuming after Keeneland wraps up its short summer season. The Henderson track opens June 28 and concludes Aug. 30.

“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. We look forward to sharing more details about the summer meet in the coming weeks.”

Jeff Inman, the general manager of Ellis Entertainment, the parent company of Ellis Park, said in a telephone interview following the committee meeting that Keeneland and Ells Park officials had collegial talks and their agreement was finalized May 22 after the boards for the two tracks approved it.

“They needed to get some dates in, and we felt there was a need for the racing industry that they had some dates to run those races,” he said. “We came up with a plan that makes everybody happy.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Ellis Park will retain host-track status while Keeneland races.

“Everybody in the deal is made whole,” Inman said. “Ellis earn the revenue they should for those race dates. The Kentucky horsemen will be compensated in their purse fund.”

Keeneland plans to host full cards of nine to 10 races each day, highlighted by 10 graded stakes it would typically run in the spring, though mostly for smaller purses. Those stakes include the $600,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and $400,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes, preps for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and the Sept. 4 Longines Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, respectively.

Amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic this spring, the Oaks and Derby were postponed by Churchill Downs officials for a “Derby Week” of racing from Sept. 1-5 that needed the approval of Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs.

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