2020 Runhappy Kentucky Downs Meet at A Glance

September 5, 2020

What: America’s most unique race meet, featuring all-turf racing over the country’s only European-style course, with its kidney-shaped 1 5/16-mile circumference, elevation changes, a right-hand bend that leads into the sweeping and significantly banked far turn and a dog-legged stretch.
Dates: Labor Day Sept. 7, Wednesday Sept. 9, Thursday Sept. 10, Saturday Sept. 12, Sunday Sept. 13 and Wednesday Sept. 16.
First post: 12:10 p.m. Central on Sept. 7; approximately 12:15 p.m. Central remainder of meet.

Spectator-free: Because of COVID-19, Kentucky Downs will run its live race meet without spectators. Owners of horses that are running will be permitted to attend in restricted numbers.

How to watch: Kentucky Downs is available for wagering on all the major account betting platforms, along with simulcasting and off-track betting outlets across the country. Kentucky Downs figures to be the racing network TVG’s largest focus, especially after Del Mar concludes Monday. Popular analyst Caton Bredar will be pulling double duty, working as paddock analyst with jockey Aaron Gryder for the track’s simulcast feed while also having a daily preview and pre-race thoughts on TVG.

What’s new: Color-coded numbered “chiclets” at the bottom of the race broadcast will replace placing judges posting the positions of the four leaders throughout a race, making it easier for viewers to tell where every horse is. The graphics are part of Equibase’s new Gmax automated tracking system using GPS technology, a venture launched with United Kingdom-based technology partner Total Performance Data. Kentucky Downs also will test the Gmax timing system during the meet while continuing to hand-time the races – the method used since the track opened in 1990.

The grass really is greener: Even with business being disrupted earlier in the year because of the COVID shutdown, Kentucky Downs continues to offer some of the most lucrative purses in the world. The track is scheduled to average $2 million a day, including $90,000 maiden races and allowance races starting at $95,000 with the purse supplements for Kentucky-bred horses.

Headed by five graded stakes, a track-record 16 stakes offer total purses of $8.6 million, including Kentucky-bred supplements. The Gun Runner Dueling Grounds Derby received a $150,000 purse increase to $750,000, matching Monday’s Tourist Mile as the second-richest stakes behind the $1 million, Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. The Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks also jumps $150,000 to $500,000. New to the stakes schedule are the $400,000 Music City for 3-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs and the $400,000 Untapable for 2-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Among the horses scheduled to run at the meet are Zulu Alpha, seeking a repeat in the 1 1/2-mile Calumet Farm Turf, and Totally Boss, who last year won the $700,000, Grade 3 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint, the track’s first Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race. The RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint winner receives a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
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Largest field sizes in North America: Kentucky Downs the past few years have led the country in average field size, at just about 11 horses per race. The most that can start is 12. Part of that hefty average is because, even though there are some scratches, many races have “also eligible” lists of horses waiting for defections in order to run.

Betting menu with takeout: Win, place, show 16%; exactas 18.25% ; doubles, trifectas, superfectas, Super High-5 19%; Pick 4, Pick 5 15%.
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Handicapping contest: The Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge presented by Daily Racing Form will crown the track’s first National Turf Handicapping Champion with a pair of online, live-money competitions. The standalone tournaments on Sunday Sept. 13 and Wednesday Sept. 16 both offer multiple seats to the 2021 National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas, with the Sept. 13 event also offering a seat at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, worth $10,000. The player with the highest score after playing both tournaments will earn additional prize money and a BCBC spot. Plus, of course, all the fame a National Turf Handicapping Champion can stand!

Players must pre-register with tournament director Brian Skirka by emailing bskirka@monmouthpark.com or by calling 732-571-6595. The Sept. 13 tournament has a $1,000 buy-in, with $500 comprising the player’s bankroll and the other $500 going to the prize pool. The buy-in is $600 for the Sept. 16 tournament, with $300 going to the prize pool and $300 for the contestant’s bankroll.
“The Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge offers such a unique opportunity for contest players,” Skirka said. “Not only do both of the two individual contests offer a great prize structure, but to crown a two-day National Turf Handicapping Champion is something that I think every horseplayer should be excited about.”
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Dynamic double in the booth: One of horse racing’s best one-day announcing duos ever will take place opening day with Larry Collmus, the voice of NBC’s Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup, joining Michael “Racing!” Wrona in Kentucky Downs’ booth. Regarded among the top race-callers in the world, Collmus and Wrona will alternate calling the Labor Day races, with Wrona at the mic Sept. 9 and 10 before returning to his Los Alamitos responsibilities and Collmus wrapping up the meet on Sept. 12, 13 and 16th. 
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Lehr the new track superintendent: Butch Lehr, who has been an industry consultant since retiring from Churchill Downs after 46 1 2/ years, was enlisted last fall to oversee the care of America’s only European-style turf course. Lehr earned a reputation as one of the industry’s most-respected and best-known track superintendents during his 30 years in that post at Churchill Downs. That fall, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters honored Lehr with its Joe Palmer Award for meritorious service to racing, the only track superintendent so honored in the organization’s 60-year history.
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Defending meet titlists: Jockey Jose Ortiz will be gunning for a three-peat as leading rider. As in the past two years, he will miss opening day to finish out the Saratoga meet. Wesley Ward, Ian Wilkes and Joe Sharp tied for the lead with four wins apiece last year, one more than Kentucky Downs’ all-time leader Mike Maker, who had won four straight titles. But with Maker expecting to enter about a third of his massive stable in races at Kentucky Downs, he remains the one to beat. Four ownership entities won two races to tie for the owner’s crown: Jim and Susan Hill, Brad Grady, Stonestreet Stables and Bloom Racing.

Riders up! With no major racing in New York or Southern California the last five days of the meet and with COVID restrictions keeping many top jockeys from coming to Churchill Downs for Derby Week, Kentucky Downs will have what inarguably is the deepest, most talented riding colony of the racing season, save for the Breeders’ Cup. Reigning Eclipse Award champion Irad Ortiz, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Umberto Rispoli, Joe Talamo and Martin Garcia are among the jockeys riding at Kentucky Downs for the first time. Hall of Famers John Velazquez and Javier Castellano will ride for the entire meet for the first time, while California standout Flavien Prat will ride all but opening day. That’s on top of the strong contingent that includes all-time win leader Brian Hernandez Jr. and past Kentucky Downs meet titlists Julien Leparoux, Florent Geroux, Rafael Bejarano and Calvin Borel.

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Brown going for the green: Future Hall of Fame trainer Chad Brown, known for his abundance of high-quality turf horses, will have a presence at Kentucky Downs for the first time. The New York-based Brown, who this year added a Kentucky operation, has had only one previous horse run at Kentucky Downs, when Hyper finished sixth as the favorite in the 2015 Kentucky Turf Cup. He has four entered for the WinStar Farm Day opening card.

Horse for course: Bloom Racing’s Snapper Sinclair seeks to go to 3 for 3 at Kentucky Downs in Monday’s Tourist Mile after winning the $750,000 stakes last year and the Kentucky Downs Juvenile (now known as the Look for the Star Juvenile) in 2018. Also in the Tourist Mile is Parlor, who will be making his fifth start at Kentucky Downs, with two seconds and a third in stakes.

What a day for @jonathanstettin who had the Rainbow 6 twice! That’s why he’s the KING!

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