FRANKLIN, Ky. (Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021) — Don’t blink. The fastest and richest six days in American horse racing goes to the post Sunday, with more than $15 million up for grabs throughout the half-dozen racing programs spread over eight days.
Big fields and big betting pools will be the norm at the all-grass meet over the country’s only European-style course. The 1 5/16-mile kidney- shaped configuration is so expansive that it took three men on John Deere riding mowers 5 1/2 hours Friday to cut the grass on the renovated course.
Here’s a look at America’s one-of-a-kind race meet:
Dates: Sept. 5, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12. First post 12:20 p.m. Central.
What: More than $15 million in purses is being offered, including $10 million for 16 stakes, six of which enjoy graded status that signifies the sport’s best races. Purses reflect millions of dollars from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, for which only horses born in the commonwealth and by a Kentucky sire are eligible. Even so, the base purses for the stakes rank among the highest in the country. For the first time, three races carry $1 million purses: the mile WinStar Mint Million, elevated to a Grade 3 this year, on Labor Day and the 1 1/2-mile Calumet Turf Cup and six-furlong FanDuel Turf Sprint on Sept. 11.
Also for the first time, NBC will broadcast its first and second Kentucky Downs races ever, being on site for the Calumet Turf Cup and FanDuel Turf Sprint as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series’ “Win And You’re In” TV schedule. The winner gets a fees-paid spot in the corresponding event in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar.
TVG focus on Kentucky Downs: TVG, America’s Horse Racing Network, will have a full-court press on coverage throughout the six days. TVG’s Gabby Gaudet, Scott Hazelton and Caleb Keller will be on site two days each, joining Kentucky Downs analyst Caton Bredar on the pre-race show and on occasion in the paddock. Bredar also will join her TVG colleagues on their set.
Stars on display: Arklow will try to become the first three-time winner of the $1 million Calumet Turf Cup, his wins in 2018 and 2020 sandwiched around a second place in 2019. That year’s winner, Zulu Alpha, also is returns. Joining them will be Grade 1 winner Channel Cat, who captured the Dueling Grounds Derby in 2018. But the race of the meet could be the $1 million FanDuel Turf Sprint. Coming back is victorious Imprimis and the two horses who finished a neck behind in a dead heat for second: Bombard and Front Run the Fed. Look for the favorite to be the popular mare Got Stormy, coming off victory over males in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Fourstardave. Got Stormy won last year’s Ladies Sprint at Kentucky Downs in her first attempt sprinting. But as Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse says, “Obviously she’s not afraid of colts…. We’ve never backed down from a challenge.” Three other challengers: Casa Creed, winner of Belmont’s Grade 1 Jaipur at the six-furlong distance; the improving Fast Boat, a past winner over the course, and Born Great, who last year won a Kentucky Downs maiden and allowance race in the span of a week.
From the booth: Larry Collmus, the melodious-voice race-caller for NBC’s Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup coverage, is back for the second year as Kentucky Downs’ announcer.
Turf’s up: Five-eighths of a mile of the course was torn up, a fine sand added to mix with the soil, tilled and smoothed out, then sodded with Kentucky 31 tall fescue sod from Iron Bridge Sod Farms of Bowling Green, Ky. Installed largely around the mammoth far turn, it was the first such extensive renovation since the course was laid down in 1990 as a steeplechase course. In addition, Kentucky Downs has added Duralock temporary rails to allow for three running lanes. After two days, the first rail around the turn and into the stretch will be taken down (as opposed to moved), with racing on the middle rail, which will be taken down after the fourth day. That leaves pristine turf on the inner most rail for the final two days.
VIP hospitality: The new FanDuel VIP Chalet is air-conditioned, well-appointed and offering an upscale buffet. The popular Finish Line Pavilion, right on the finish line and adjacent to the paddock has been expanded to accommodate demand.
Those winning races will find a renovated winner’s circle more in line for the purses offered.
Free general admission: It’s back after last year’s COVID hiatus. Because COVID concerns remain and the construction on the hotel, general admission is restricted to the front of the The Gaming Hall and into the far turn, which also offers free tailgating. Betting windows and food trucks will service the area.
Defending meet titlists: Tyler Gaffalione will ride all six days of the meet as he seeks to repeat after earning his first Kentucky Downs riding crown last year. But look for 2018-2019 champ Jose Ortiz, who rides five days after being in Saratoga on Sunday, to make it a horse race. (A sleeper for the title: Julien Leparoux, the 2014 and 2017 meet leader.) Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest trainer, always is the one to beat, having led the meet five of the past six years, including in 2020. He could be challenged by Brad Cox and Mark Casse, both loading up on entries. Three Diamonds Farm will again be a strong presence as Kirk and Jordan Wycoff look to top last year’s meet-leading four wins.
What’s new (betting): A third Pick 4 has been added. The popular 50-cent bet had an average payoff of $3,295.88 last year. The average betting pool was $357,788.
Other average 2020 payoffs per bet (from Equibase): $2 win, $16.73; $1 double; 50-cent Pick 3; 50-cent Pick 5, $23.076.97; $1 exacta, $65.32; 50-cent trifecta, $269.20; 10-cent superfecta, $382.82; 50-cent Super Hi-5, $1,545.31. The Pick 5 pool averaged $618,829.
Complete list of payoffs and average pool sizes
King of the ’Cappers: Kentucky Downs has super-sized its King of the Turf Handicapping Challenge, expanding it into three independent two-day online tournaments. Each of the live-money contests will award seats to the 2022 National Horseplayers Championship, with the last two offering seats to the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. The overall winner who participates in all three contests over the six dates will be crowned National Turf Handicapping Champion and earn additional prize money, along with the National Turf Handicapping Champion Trophy presented by BetMakers.
Sign up by emailing tournament director Brian Skirka at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information here
UK hoops icons Issel, Pratt onsite Sept. 8: SportsTalk with Dan Issel and Mike Pratt, which airs on Louisville’s ESPN 680, will broadcast live from Kentucky Downs on Wednesday Sept. 8, 9-11 a.m. Central. Issel, who 51 years after graduating remains the University of Kentucky men’s basketball’s all-time leading scorer with 2,138 points, was a collegiate All American, a six-time ABA All-Star and NBA All-Star and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Pratt, who played with Issel at UK, is in the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame and UK Athletics Hall of Fame and is the longtime basketball analyst for the UK Radio Network. Both men are avid racing fans.
A toast to sponsors: Each racing program showcases a day sponsor and a whiskey.
Sunday — Day sponsor: Big Ass Fans, sponsor of the $750,000 Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby and a major Breeders’ Cup sponsor. Bourbon: Louisville-based Jefferson’s Ocean, a very small batch bourbon aged at sea.
Labor Day — Day sponsor: WinStar Farm, sponsor of the $1 million, Grade 3 WinStar Mint Million, and home to leading stallions Speightstown, More Than Ready and Distorted Humor and a litany of up-and-coming sires. Bourbon: Angel’s Envy, aged in hand-selected port-wine barrels by three generations of Louisville’s Henderson family and described by Maxim as “required drinking for fans of All-American whiskey.”
Wednesday — Day sponsor: TVG, sponsor of the $400,000 TVG Stakes and America’s leading horse-racing channel and online betting platform, including serving as the official ADW of Kentucky Downs. Bourbon: Bardstown-based Heaven Hill, family-owned and -operated and “Lifting Spirits” since 1935.
Thursday — Day sponsor: Global Tote, sponsor of the $500,000 Global Tote Juvenile Sprint. Global Tote, which provides pari-mutuel technology and services to horse-race betting operators around the world (including Kentucky Downs), was recently acquired by BetMakers and is Kentucky Downs’ official morning-line odds-maker. Bourbon: Bardstown, Ky.-based Elijah Craig, small-batch bourbon that’s the namesake of the Father of Bourbon, with Elijah Craig in 1789 the first distiller to age his whiskey in new charred-oak barrels.
Sept. 11 — Day sponsor: Iconic Calumet Farm, sponsor of the $1 million Calumet Turf Cup (G2) and home to Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and Citation among its eight Kentucky Derby winners, eight Preakness winners and 11 horses in the Hall of Fame. Bourbon: Bowling Green, Ky.-based Calumet Bourbon, a singular very-small batch whiskey launched in 2013, the year that Oxbow’s Preakness victory returned the icon farm to the winner’s circle of a Triple Crown race for the first time since 1968.
Sept. 12 — Day sponsor: Nashville-based Nelson’s Green Brier Whiskey, sponsor of the $500,000 Nelson’s Green Brier Music City Stakes. Whiskey: Nelson’s Green Brier Whiskey, produced from the 1860 family recipe that made Tennessee Whiskey world famous, with the first bottling in 1909.
Lookin’ good!: The world-renowned Hagyard Equine Medical Institute is sponsoring the “Best Turned Out” award for each race, where the groom of the horse judged the best-looking in the paddock receives a prize. There will be a trio of two-day mini contests, with the barn earning the most “Best Turned Out” wins getting a pizza party.
Hagyard’s also is sponsoring The Race to Give initiative to raise money for and awareness of Thoroughbred aftercare programs. Donations go directly to the Thoroughbred Charities of America, which supports Thoroughbred aftercare organizations that provide rehabilitation, repurposing, rehoming and retirement programs as well as research and employee programs to help those who care for racing’s equine athletes.
Kentucky Downs Press Release
Grace Clark/ Kentucky Downs Photo