The most obvious reminder that the 2015 Breeders' Cup is taking up residence at Keeneland hits patrons as they come through the main gate and encounter the statue replica of the event's trophy that sits between the paddock and saddling ring.
While some are more visible than others, preparations and tweaks for the World Championships continue to abound around the Lexington track with one new feature in particular getting broken in during the Spring Meet.
Keeneland has made the glass-enclosed Saddling Paddock Chalet available to guests during this meet as a test run for next fall's championship event. The chalet, which provides patrons with close-up views of the horses as they are saddled, has been offered on Fridays and Saturdays for the meet at the ticket price of $80 per person.
That prices includes lunch, a program and admission and, according to Keeneland officials, the chalet has been sold out each of the days it has been offered.
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"It was funny because no one had experience with what that was so when we did the pre sale with our board members and folks like that, no one bought that space," said Bob Elliston, chief operation officer for Breeders' Cup. "They were in the (trackside) chalets, the clubhouse, those type of spaces. Then when we went on public sale, they (the public) gobbled them up in one day. Now people are seeing them and going 'How do we get in there? We want to be in there'."
Capacity of the Saddling Paddock Chalet for the spring has been 220 people and it features a climate-controlled dining room and also offers premium open bar with private wagering facilities and restrooms located nearby. According to the Breeders' Cup website, two-day packages for the Saddling Paddock Chalet are already sold out for the Breeders' Cup taking place on October 30-31.
"It's had great demand especially after people get in there and see it, the uniqueness of the view," said Keeneland president Bill Thomason. "Just the way it's set up and the quality you have when you are in the chalet."
In addition to shoring up its hospitality plans, Keeneland Breeders' Cup officials also knocked out some key details that will impact its 13-race card this fall.
The Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile will indeed be contested as a two-turn mile at Keeneland this year, a fact that had been under question due to the track's 11⁄16-mile configuration.
Keeneland does not card races on the main track going a flat mile, instead running races at 7 furlongs and 184 feet out of the chute or 11⁄16 miles going two turns. In a visit this past week, Elliston said they physically measured to see what the distance would be if they put the starting gate near the second finish line and finished the race at the one by the 16th pole and discovered the run into the first turn was actually longer than that of Santa Anita Park's.
The field size for the Dirt Mile will also be limited to 12 horses instead of 14, same as had been the case at Santa Anita.
Elliston added that Breeders' Cup will also introduce a new safety system for the sponsor signage that typically is placed under the rail. Where the old holders for the signage were metal, Elliston said the new ones will be all foam, providing a safer barrier should a worst-case scenario occur.
"Fortunately we've never had an issue and hope we never will," Elliston said. "But now there is no metal under there."