Franklin-Simpson Becomes KY Downs’ First Grade 1 Stakes

December 17, 2023

Private Creed, with Joel Rosario aboard, winning this year’s $1 million Franklin-Simpson Stakes. (Grace Clark photo) 

Nicholson: “It’s more about the ascent of our entire racing program”

FRANKLIN, Ky. — Kentucky Downs’ 2024 meet will stage its first Grade 1 stakes in track history, with the Franklin-Simpson for 3-year-old sprinters attaining the highest designation in American racing.

The 6 1/2-furlong Franklin-Simpson is the only stakes that the American Graded Stakes Committee promoted to a Grade 1 for this coming season. In addition, the Music City for 3-year-old filly sprinters was elevated to a Grade 2 from Grade 3 status. Kentucky Downs’ elite all-grass meet runs Aug. 29 and 31 and Sept. 1, 5, 7, 8 and 11 in 2024.

Under the ownership headed by Ron Winchell and Marc Falcone the past four years, Kentucky Downs has added four Grade 3 stakes, its first (now at four) Grade 2 races and its first Grade 1.

“Ownership is laser-focused on the continued elevation of the racing product at their track, and we’re appreciative of the recognition by the American Graded Stakes Committee,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ Vice President for Racing. “As delighted as we are about finally getting a Grade 1 stakes, it’s more about the ascent of our entire racing program, with the Franklin-Simpson an exciting result.

“While we have offered among the highest purses in the world for several years, bringing it all together is the way the horsemen — owners and trainers — have embraced us.”

Freedom Speaks battles Happy Soul for the win in the 2022 Music City. (Coady Photography)
Freedom Speaks battles Happy Soul for the win in the 2022 Music City. (Coady Photography)

The Franklin-Simpson and Music City were among 11 Kentucky Downs stakes offering a purse of at least $1 million in 2023, including money from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. Even without the supplemental money for registered Kentucky-breds, the Franklin-Simpson and Music City’s $600,000 base purses are the most lucrative in America for their division.

“Kentucky Downs was a strong regional track when we took over ownership, and our immediate focus was to try to make it more national,” Winchell said. “With our first Grade 1 and with four Grade 2 races among our nine graded stakes, we’ve become entrenched in the national conversation. Our goal now is to make Kentucky Downs an international destination. Part of that is working hard to continue the upward migration of our stakes. We want the Franklin-Simpson to be our first – but not only – Grade 1.”

Graded stakes are those determined to be the best in the country, with Grade 1 races judged to be the best, followed by Grade 2 and Grade 3. The annual evaluations are made by the Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association’s American Graded Stakes Committee, which rates stakes’ strength based on the overall performances of their participants in recent years in order to provide a guide to the relative quality of bloodstock. To be eligible for grading, a stakes must meet purse minimums and have no restrictions on horses other than age and sex.

The graded stakes committee released the 2024 graded-stakes classifications on Saturday, announcing a total of 429 across the country, including 93 Grade 1 races. Nine of the Kentucky Downs’ 15 eligible stakes are graded. The Franklin-Simpson is the only Grade 1 turf sprint for 3-year-olds.

Kentucky Downs’ first graded stakes was the Kentucky Turf Cup, back in 2001. The track did not receive another graded stakes until 2017, when the track earned two. The Franklin-Simpson earned its first grading for 2019, advancing to a Grade 2 for 2021. The Music City, run for the first time in 2020, was conducted as a Grade 3 for the first time this year.

“The promotion of the Franklin-Simpson and its filly counterpart shows Kentucky Downs has been filling a void in the graded-stakes schedule” Nicholson said. “We’re very proud that the Music City after only four runnings already is a Grade 2, and the Franklin-Simpson has established itself as the defining race for 3-year-old turf sprinters. We hope to see those horses back in 2024 in our corresponding Grade 2 stakes for older horses.”

Get Smokin winning the 2023 Kentucky Turf Cup. (Coady Photography)
Get Smokin winning the 2023 Kentucky Turf Cup. (Coady Photography)

The ascent of Kentucky Downs’ graded-stakes program

2001 — Kentucky Turf Cup becomes a Grade 3

2017 — Ladies Turf becomes a Grade 3

Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint becomes a Grade 3

2018 — Ladies Sprint becomes a Grade 3

2019 — Franklin-Simpson becomes a Grade 3

2021 — The Mint Millions becomes a Grade 3

Kentucky Turf Cup becomes a Grade 2

Franklin-Simpson becomes a Grade 2

2022 — Dueling Grounds Derby becomes a Grade 3

Ladies Marathon becomes a Grade 3

Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint becomes a Grade 2

2023 — Ladies Sprint becomes a Grade 2

Music City becomes a Grade 3

2024 — The Franklin-Simpson becomes a Grade 1

The Music City becomes a Grade 2

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