Keeneland’s First Meet, 1936

Nov 21st 2012 09:00 am |

A first look at Keeneland Race Course published in the Turf and Sport Digest, October 1936

The Sunday morning after the Breeders’ Cup, as I read all of the recaps of racing’s biggest weekend, an article came across the wire from our friend Greg Hall, a business reporter for the Courier-Journal in Louisville. The title caught my attention: “A Mystery for Colin’s Ghost to Solve.” Hey, he’s talking to me!

During this past Fall’s meet, Greg found in the Keeneland media press guide that its second lowest attendance ever came on October 16, 1936 when only 1,294 showed up. Oddly, that happened to be the second day of racing in the track’s history. He looked into it and concluded that it might have had something to do with the weather. However, he hoped that we here in the Colin’s Ghost home office could find a more compelling reason.

With that prompt, I did some digging into Keeneland’s first meet. While I hoped to find something intriguing, it seems that the poor attendance was, indeed, simply a matter of a rainy, cold Friday after a wildly successful opener the day before.

On Thursday October 15, 1936, Keeneland’s first opening day, a crowd of over 8,000 attended and bet a total of $74,639. They saw the great filly Myrtlewood win the Keen Handicap, where she beat the boys in a six furlong sprint. Something else I found while researching was that Myrtlewood raced and won three times during the inaugural meet that lasted just nine days. After racing opening day, Myrtlewood raced two days later on Saturday in the Ashland, and made her last career start a week later on the final Saturday of the meet in a match race against Miss Merriment.

According to the Daily Racing Form, the final Saturday brought the largest crowd of the meet. The match race was run for no purse but the winner received a “beautiful gold trophy” provided by the Keeneland Association. Hal Price Headley, the track’s president, presented the trophy to the winning connections in the paddock after the race.

But, I digress, that was the last day of racing.  The first Friday of the meet, the day of the second lowest attendance in the track’s history, was described in the Daily Racing Form as follows:

“With the cancellation of the Duntreath Handicap, the scheduled feature, because of the change in track conditions caused by a steady rain early this morning, the second day’s program at Keeneland comprised only six races…

“…The course was in sloppy condition for the half dozen races, a drizzle falling during the early part of the afternoon, and only a moderate sized crowd was in attendance.”

It seems that Greg Hall from the Courier-Journal had it right. Bad weather caused the “bounce” in attendance from opening day to the second day. It seems that rainy weather plagued the entire meet, although it was a welcome considering the drought conditions that plagued Kentucky, and other parts of the country, for much of the decade.

A DRF column titled “Here and There on the Turf,” had this excellent recap of Keeneland’s first days of racing:

“Keeneland’s inaugural meeting of nine days was completed with a profit of $10,000, which put its directors in a very happy frame of mind, because a loss had been expected, even with the many good horses promised the new Lexington track but which failed to put in an appearance. The weather also failed to behave as well as it might have, but little complaint was forthcoming on this score because that part of the country had gone so long without much rain that when it did arrive the natives couldn’t very well complain about it. Much work is yet to be done at Keeneland and the profit from the first meeting, regardless of how slight it may have been, should serve as an incentive to carry out the improvements as soon as possible.”

And the improvements came, and have been coming consistently ever since, leaving us with the Keeneland we have today. Of the hundreds of horse racing tracks across the country, few come close to matching the atmosphere and prestige of Keeneland.

A big thank you to Greg Hall for the prompt to look into the inaugural meeting at Keeneland. He has had some really nice things to say about about this site on his twitter feed and in his blog for the Courier-Journal. Needless, to say that is very flattering and much appreciated.


“A Mystery for Colin’s Ghost to Solve”

Myrtlewood Adds Keen Handicap to her List,” Daily Racing Form, 16 October 1936

Myrtlewood’s Finale,” Daily Racing Form, 17 October 1936 [report about the second day of racing at Keeneland]

Keeneland Charts for October 16, 1936. Daily Racing Form, 17 October 1936

Here and There on the Turf,” Daily Racing Form, 17 October 1936

Myrtlewood Triumphs over Miss Merriment,” Daily Racing Form, 26 October 1936

Here and There on the Turf,” Daily Racing Form, 27 October 1936

Article about the horrible weather conditions of 1936 in the United States

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Filed in Keeneland Race Course,Myrtlewood,thoroughbred racing history

3 Responses to “Keeneland’s First Meet, 1936”

  1. Joseph Martin says:

    Love Colin’s Ghost!
    I’d love to make two requests. The first: Do a little story on the Helis Stock Farm.
    (The former Rancocas Farm) It’s history is loaded with great horses and great people associated with the farm.
    The second is most important to me. Do a story on my late friend, jockey – trainer, Tommy Luther! He was so responsable in the fight for jockeys’ rights back in the 30’s. After he saw his friend, severely injured in a spill,left to die in the jocks room
    until the days races were completed and THEN transported to the hopital where he died, he started what was to become the Jockeys Guild. Mr Luther was punished and had his riding priviledges taken away. He was a great man; I’ll never forget him and his story needs to be told. He should be in the HOF!

  2. Kevin says:

    Hi Mr Martin: Thanks for the comment! I’m intrigued by Tommy Luther — i’ve heard the name but don’t know much about him. Seems worthy of some research. Thanks again! Kevin

  3. Jeannie Bronaugh says:

    I am researching Keeneland’s history because my dad told me the story of how, he, as a young boy in the 1930s, and his grandfather would walk their horses to Keeneland for the races. Cool, right!? I wonder if there are records of these owners.
    His grandfather would have been a Bronaugh or Chadwick from Nicholasville or Danville or Crab Orchard.
    Any ideas?

    Many thanks,

    Jeannie Bronaugh Wright
    Atlanta, GA