Today’s Keeneland barn notes

Keeneland’s barn notes by the track’s publicity office


Jerry Namy’s 5-year-old homebred War Campaign has put together a solid resume in three years of racing with earnings totaling $664,664. All that is missing from that resume is a graded stakes victory.

He will get the chance to check that box Saturday when he goes to the gate for the 93rd running of the $300,000 Ben Ali (G3).

“I think he fits well in this race,” trainer Phil Sims said Wednesday morning. “Saturday’s race is a mile and three-sixteenths, and he has won at a mile and a quarter.”

War Campaign showed his readiness for graded stakes competition when he finished second to the highly regarded First Mission in the Essex Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn Park on March 23.

“We don’t run many horses in the winter, and he had a little break after he won the Tinsel (Stakes at Oaklawn on Dec. 16),” Sims said. “We trained him up for the Essex here and then shipped him to Oaklawn.”

Following the Essex, Sims had a choice between the Ben Ali and the Oaklawn Handicap (G2), also to be run Saturday, but he opted to stay here.

“We will see what happens Saturday and then maybe look for something at Churchill,” Sims said of War Campaign, who has a 6-3-0-3 record on the main track in Louisville. “He likes Churchill a lot.”

Whatever is next, War Campaign will continue to campaign on the dirt instead of grass, where he has been off the board in his two starts on the surface.

“It’s kind of funny in that he is bred for the turf but he runs better on the dirt,” Sims said of the son of two-time Group 1 turf winner Declaration of War. “I like having a good dirt horse.”


Known since high school as “Jill Babe,” Jill Guillen has reached a unique milestone at Keeneland: She’s celebrating her 60thconsecutive race meet at the track. For most of that time, she has cooked for jockeys in the Jockeys Quarters (and now in the Limestone Café in the Sales Pavilion while Keeneland is undergoing a makeover). Throughout her tenure, Guillen’s cooking skills and hospitality have helped her make lasting friendships with the riders from all over the world who come here to compete.

A native Kentuckian, Guillen grew up in Clark and Powell counties east of Lexington. She found a love for cooking at a young age, learning skills from her grandmother, aunt and mother. “The first thing I ever learned to cook was a pancake,” she said.

When she started at Keeneland, Guillen was working in the kitchens for the public dining rooms at the race track before she transferred to the Jockeys Quarters, where a kitchen serves jockeys who are required to spend the entire race day here. She was initially nervous about the switch, she said, especially because she weighed nearly 500 pounds at the time. 

“I walked in that room so intimidated,” she said. “As someone working around people that weigh 100 pounds and you weigh almost 500, you get insecure.”

That feeling of insecurity quickly diminished as she waited on her first jockey, Shane Sellers, one of the most successful riders in Keeneland history.

“He walks up to me and he says, ‘Good morning, my baby. How are you doing?’ ”Guillen said. “They never made me feel like I was less than them.”

Guillen, who has lost a considerable amount of weight since then, soon developed a bond with the jockeys.

“They are full of life,” she said. “They made me feel like I was the only person in the world. They focused on me as a person. They saw inside me that I was someone wanting to just show love, and when they’re away from their families and their moms and dads, I was their track mama. I call them my babies because they made me feel protective of them.”

One of her “babies,” former jockey turned trainer Anthony Stephen, named a horse after her. The equine Jill Babe made her career debut at Keeneland in 2021 and has raced here three times.

“Even when the jockeys retire and go off, they always keep up with me,” she said. “It makes me feel like I still matter, and I’m their family.”

That feeling and more have kept Guillen returning to Keeneland.

“When you come in here, you feel like you’re at home,” she said. “I can never stop coming here. I’ve been here 30 years and 60 consecutive meets. I want to just come here forever; it puts life in your body. It’s part of me, and I know I’ll always feel that way.”


Friday, April 26 race. Entries taken Friday, April 19.

$300,000 Bewitch Presented by Keeneland Sales – Tower Bridge (trainer Cherie DeVaux). Possible: Chop Chop (Brad Cox), Lovely Princess (Kenny McPeek), Vergara (Graham Motion).


On Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13, Keeneland hosted two popular handicapping contests for several hundred players at the track and on various ADWs.

The action kicked off Friday with 200 entries in the on-track-only Spring Challenge. Matt Gumm of Glasgow, Kentucky, finished first with a bankroll of $4,823 from an initial $250, taking home a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) at Del Mar in November and a first-place prize of $3,200.

Howard Kravets of Vernon Hills, Illinois, was second with $4,269. Gregory Lewis of Columbus, Ohio, finished third, and Peter Rogers of Summit, New Jersey, was fourth.  

For their performances, Kravets, Lewis and Rogers secured berths in the 2025 National Horseplayers Championships (NHC) in Las Vegas and prize money.

On Saturday, a field of 282 players contested the Grade One Gamble, a $3,500 contest widely considered one of the most prestigious handicapping events in the country. Darren Schweiger of New York, New York, crushed a $4,000 exacta in the Stonestreet Lexington (G3) on his way to a final bankroll of $42,360. Schweiger took home $68,000 in prize money, a BCBC berth and an NHC berth.

Runner-up Clay Sanders of Memphis cashed a $6,500 win bet on the horse who won the day’s final race to attain a bankroll of $27,365. That total was good for $34,000 in prize money, a BCBC berth and an NHC berth.

In all, six players punched their tickets to both the NHC and BCBC, and another four players earned an NHC berth. They include the aforementioned Gregory Lewis, who finished third with a total bankroll of $23,494 and won a BCBC berth and two NHC berths during this weekend, and Howard Kravets, who finished seventh with a total of $20,796 and double-qualified for the NHC.

Final standings are available at

Here are the top 10 finishers with prize money. The first six received BCBC and NHC berths. Players who finished seventh through 10th received NHC berths.

1.      Darren Schweiger ($68,000)

2.      Clay Sanders ($34,000)

3.      Gregory Lewis ($18,000)

4.      Cory Shorr ($9,000)

5.      Rich Pawlowski ($6,800)

6.      Dan Hartmann ($3,600)

7.      Howard Kravets ($3,600)

8.      Drew Keaton ($3,600)

9.      Chuck Grubbs ($3,600)

10.   John Fisher ($3,600)

Keeneland’s next handicapping contest is the BCBC-NHC Challenge on Saturday, Oct. 12.

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.