Derby Time at Rotary

May 5, 2011

Picking a winner from among the 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby is always a tough task.  This year is no different.  Keeneland’s President offered a little insight to Lexington Rotarians on Thursday.  He also talked about surprisingly high attendance figures during the just completed spring meet.

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson made his annual Derby week appearance before the Lexington Rotary Club.  In keeping with tradition, Nicholson didn’t offer a single favorite in this year’s ‘Run for the Roses.’  He says this could be the most ‘untested’ Derby field ever.

“I think this is an unprecedented Derby because of the small number of starts.   This entire Derby field has only had 62 starts the entire year.  Very few of those starts have been against each other,” said Nicholson.

Given the crowded field, Nicholson says the first turn of the derby is always one of the scariest moments of the year. Still, on balance, the Keeneland president says, offering more horse owners the chance of a lifetime outweighs any thought of narrowing the field to 14 horses.

“I understand why Churchill Downs doesn’t want to tell the next six horses that they can’t get in.   If you look at some of the last few Derbies, those last six horses ending up winning, some of those.  Unmined Bird never would have been in the Derby,” added Nicholson.

One could say officials at Keeneland race course beat the odds this spring.   April was Lexington’s wettest month on record, but, the spring meet saw a higher attendance and betting handle than a year ago.  Keeneland president Nick Nicholson says the track has loyal fans, and attracts top jockeys and horses.  Plus national interest is growing.

“Our market share increased during April.  Fans across North America responded favorably.  And that had to be a tribute to the fact that our race tracks were safe enough that trainers felt comfortable running their horses even under these adverse weather conditions,” said Nicholson.

Nicholson says both of Keeneland’s tracks held up very well under extremely rainy conditions during the meet.  He told Rotarians it rained  ten of the 15 days during the spring event.