Keeneland handicapping: winning track profiles for dirt and turf

Profile Picture: Noel Michaels

Noel Michaels

October 3rd, 2019

Top class racing returns to Keeneland as the annual fall season gets ready to open for its three-week boutique meet featuring 17 racedays from Friday, October 4 to Saturday, October 26. The meet will attract big fields, good horses, and a load of top jockeys and trainers befitting the world epicenter of Thoroughbred horse racing in Lexington, Kentucky.

Keeneland’s 18 stakes races include six Grade 1 races – five of which are during the prestigious “Fall Stars Weekend” on October 4-6. Fall Stars Weekend alone will offer nine graded stakes, and there will be a total of 10 Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” races run from October 4-9.

When looking ahead to the Breeders’ Cup, it is important to remember that the winners of more than 40 Breeders’ Cup race 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 in the Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) (Filly & Mare Sprint [G1]), Spinster (G1) (Distaff [G1]), Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) (Mile [G1]), Alcibiades (G1) (Juvenile Fillies [G1), and Breeders’ Futurity (G1) (Juvenile [G1]).

Since Keeneland’s fall meet is only three weeks long and the meet’s stakes are front-loaded so they can be Breeders’ Cup prep races, the time is now for handicappers to start brushing up on some of the things they need to know to make money at the fall’s marquee meet.


From a handicapping perspective, Keeneland plays much like a lot of other tracks with an average of 35% winning favorites and 72% of favorites finishing in the money. The average win payoff lands in the 9-2 to 5-1 odds range.

Historically, Keeneland was always known as an inside speed paved highway in terms of handicapping. That all changed during Keeneland’s Polytrack era, but mainly, that old good rail has returned on the main track. The one-post can be expected to win at around 20% in dirt sprints and at around 25% in dirt routes. Horses seem to have a fair chance in sprints all the way out to post 11, with inside, middle, and outside posts all offering fair win percentages. In two-turn route races at a mile or more, horses can also win from any part of the starting gate, but overall, the inside posts 1-5 offer the best win percentages.

As far as the preferred Keeneland main track running styles, horses 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. Front runners do best at six furlongs (20% wire-to-wire and 33% of the winners on or close to the pace), and at 1 1/16 miles (with about 20% wire-to-wire winners).

Keeneland Turf Trends

The other main staple of the quality day-to-day racing at Keeneland is the great turf racing, which features big full fields, tons of value, and loads of good overlays.

Post positions and horses for the course are very important handicapping factors on the Keeneland grass course, and this factor will play out all throughout the meet.

In Keeneland turf routes, inside posts are good, but middle posts are also fine all the way out to post 7. The far outside posts, however, 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 all yield between 10%-14% win percentages, but the outside posts average far worse winning percentages. The worst turf races for outside posts will definitely be 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 since then.

One thing that differentiates Keeneland from so many other places is that they routinely run on wet turf courses that are listed as yielding or something else other than firm. Don’t overlook these softer turf courses when looking for value, because they are often a source of some of the best longshot payoffs at the meet. Handicappers in these races often make the mistake of paying too much attention to a horse’s recent form while ignoring what really matters in many of these cases. What it often boils down to is whether or not the horse can run its best race on yielding or soft turf courses. Remember that certain horses like firm turf while others prefer a little bit of give in the ground. If you can differentiate between the two, you will have a big advantage over the general public in the races run on softer turf courses.

Turf Sprints

Keeneland really doesn’t card very many turf sprints, but with the popularity of these races amongst fans and particularly horsemen, expect these races to be run this season more than ever before. 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 very many annually. Based on the longer-range stats, Keeneland’s turf sprints seem to favor two things; 1) off-the-pace runners that rally from between two lengths and six lengths behind with a half-mile to run, and 2) middle-to-outside posts. Several post positions win at double-digit percentages, including posts 8, 9, 10 and 12, so upgrade outside runners in those races if the betting public mistakenly overlooks them.


Some of the best fall racing in the land will be held during the 17-day Keeneland meet from October 4 through October 26. I wish you an enjoyable and successful meet.

Keeneland scenic (c) Coady Photography