(Kentucky Downs / Photos by Coady Photography)

From the KY Downs Media Team:

Six days left: Sept. 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, 13

Saturday’s Equibase entries with Global Tote morning line

Sunday’s Equibase entries with Global Tote morning line

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$1M DG Oaks: Beckman seeks another upset with Sabalenka

By Tim Wilkin

For his next trick, trainer Whit Beckman will attempt to light up the tote board at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs. He has already done it once.

Beckman will saddle Dirico Racing and Breeding’s Sabalenka in the $1 million Dueling Grounds Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on Sunday.

On Thursday, opening day at the seven-day meet, Beckman’s Harlan Estate pulled down a huge upset in the $500,000 FanDuel Tapit Stakes when the 5-year-old gelding won at odds of 37-1.

Sabalenka did not get any respect on the Dueling Grounds Oaks’ morning line as she was dismissed at odds of 20-1 in the full field of 12. Beckman didn’t flinch when he saw the number.

“At Kentucky Downs, you should not care what your odds are,” Beckman said by phone. “That turf course can be an equalizer.”

The 41-year-old Beckman has been training on his own since Sept. 11, 2021. The win with Harlan Estate was his first in a stakes. The former assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher and champion trainer Chad Brown is anxious for another one.

“That’s the plan,” said Beckman, who also had a stint training in Saudi Arabia. “We know (Sabalenka) has run well there before. She likes the long stretch and it looks like she is ready to go.”

Sabalenka is winless in four starts this year but is coming off her best effort, a third in the Christina Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf at Delaware Park July 15.

“I thought it was a pretty solid effort on a soft turf course,” Beckman said. “Since then, we just freshened her up and gave her a few breezes (at the Churchill Downs Training Center. I think we are cycling at the right time. I am excited to bring her there.”

Sabalenka is no stranger to the Kentucky Downs course. She broke her maiden last Sept. 22, winning a $150,000 race by a nose. She has a win, two seconds and two thirds in eight career starts, all of them on the grass.

This will be the first time Sabalenka has started at the 1 5/16 distance.

“She knows the place, she has experience over that turf course and the distance should really suit her running style,” Beckman said.

Although her second career win – an allowance race at Churchill Downs Nov. 22 – came in gate-to-wire fashion, that is not Sabalenka’s preferred running style.

“She wants to come from off it,” Beckman said. “That day at Churchill, (jockey Ricardo) Santana did something, I don’t know what, but he got her geared up early. The pace wasn’t that fast but she was really comfortable in that spot. She is usually slow to begin, but she always has a pretty sustained run. We know if she is anywhere near it at the end, she will keep fighting.”

Sabalenka will be ridden by Declan Cannon for the first time. Cannon was also aboard Harlan Estate on Thursday for Beckman.

“Declan and I have a good thing going,” Beckman said. “We have won some races and he fit with a lot of the horses I train. We have a great back and forth and it seems to work.”


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Kentucky Downs sponsors: ‘Names and numbers speak for themselves’

Kentucky Downs adds $500,000 NTL Handicap to Sept. 3 card

2023 Kentucky Downs stakes schedule

All stakes are on turf and include Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund

Thursday Aug. 31 — $500,000 FanDuel TVG Tapit Stakes, 3 year olds & up who have not won a stakes in 2023, mile and 70 yards.

Saturday Sept. 2 — $1 million Big Ass Fans Music City (G3), 3-year-old fillies, 6 1/2 furlongs; $1 million Gun Runner, 3-year-olds, one mile; $2 million The Mint Millions (G3), 3 year olds & up, one mile.

Sunday Sept. 3 — $1 million National Thoroughbred League Dueling Grounds Derby (G3), 3-year-olds, 1 5/16 miles; $1 million Dueling Grounds Oaks, 3-year-old fillies, 1 5/16 miles: $500,000 National Thoroughbred League Handicap, 3-year-olds & up, one mile.

Thursday Sept. 7 — $500,000 Jeff Ruby’s One Dreamer, fillies and mares 3 years old & up who have not won a stakes in 2023, mile and 70 yards.

Saturday Sept. 9 — $1 million Ainsworth Turf Sprint (G2) *BC, 3-year-olds & up, six furlongs; $1 million FanDuel Turf Cup (G2) *BC, 3-year-olds & up, 1 1/2 miles; $1 million Exacta Systems Franklin-Simpson (G2), 3-year-olds, 6 1/2 furlongs; $1 million AGS Ladies Sprint (G2), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, 6 1/2 furlongs; $1 million Castle Hill Gaming Ladies Turf (G3), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, one mile; $1 million Aristocrat Ladies Marathon (G3), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, 1 5/16 miles.

Sunday, Sept. 10 — $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile, 2-year-olds, mile; $500,000 Global Tote Juvenile Fillies, 2-year-old fillies, mile.

Wednesday Sept. 13 — $500,000 Pepsi Juvenile Sprint, 2-year-olds, 6 1/2 furlongs; $500,000 Pepsi Untapable, 2-year-old fillies, 6 1/2 furlongs.

*BC: Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race – winner gets fees-paid berth in corresponding Breeders’ Cup race at Santa Anita