Keeneland Celebrates Record $224M Betting Haul, but Horse Deaths Cast a Shadow

Lexington, Ky.–Keeneland, the renowned horse racing venue in Lexington, concluded its highly anticipated 2023 Spring Meet on Friday, achieving remarkable success in terms of wagering handle and purse payouts. However, overshadowing the celebratory atmosphere, the meet also witnessed a distressing number of horse fatalities, marking the highest death toll at Keeneland since 2019.
Master of the Ring suffers a fatal injury on April 19 at Keeneland. (TVG clip)

According to Daily Racing Forum, the 15-day Spring Meet, which took place from April 7 to April 28, recorded a total handle of $224,348,745. This figure represents a notable increase of 2.3 percent compared to the previous record set during last year’s spring meet, which amassed $219.3 million in wagers. Impressively, this marks the fifth consecutive spring meet to establish a new handle record. On a daily basis, purses averaged approximately $1.2 million, creating an attractive incentive for horsemen and jockeys alike.

Regrettably, the excitement and triumph of the Keeneland Spring Meet were marred by the loss of three horses due to racing incidents on the track. This somber development has garnered significant attention, with the Equine Injury Database, established by The Jockey Club in July 2008 to track horse racing injuries nationwide, recording the highest number of horse deaths at Keeneland since 2019.

“Keeneland is committed to the safety and welfare of all involved in this sport we love so much. Toward that goal, Keeneland has instituted some of the strongest safety and integrity protocols in North America,” read a Keeneland statement provided to the Herald-Leader.

Keeneland president Shannon Arvin expressed her gratitude for the record wagering, however. “A huge thanks to our fans, the community, and our horsemen who turned out in full force this spring to support Keeneland racing,” she said in a press release.

During the 15-day event, the average field size per race was 8.95 horses, with an average of one death every five racing days. The favorites claimed victory in 36 percent of the races, with 51 out of 141 races resulting in triumph for the frontrunners. The on-track handle, however, experienced a marginal decline from last spring, amounting to $15.8 million.

As the Lexington community processes the contrasting aspects of the 2023 Spring Meet—celebrating unprecedented wagering success while mourning the loss of equine lives—a challenging reconciliation arises. The vast amounts of revenue generated by Keeneland, along with the subsequent economic benefits to the region, contrast sharply with the tragic consequences suffered by the horses. This juxtaposition presents a dilemma that the community must grapple with moving forward.

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