HENDERSON, Ky. (Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018) — The reason for creating Kentucky Downs Preview Day at Ellis Park, where the inaugural running will be Sunday with a quartet of $100,000 grass stakes, was to provide a significant boost to Kentucky’s summer racing and fill a void in the stakes calendar.
The races are funded by money transferred from the Kentucky Downs’ purse account to Ellis Park in an agreement with the Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents owners and trainers at all five thoroughbred tracks in the commonwealth. All horses are eligible to run for $75,000 of each stakes’ purse, with the remaining $25,000 available only to registered Kentucky-bred horses through the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. That money also comes from the Kentucky Downs purse account, but required additional approval of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and its KTDF advisory committee.
When Ellis Park racing secretary Dan Bork conceived the idea, he envisioned Preview Day as being a win-win-win for the two tracks and their horsemen. Hence, the Ellis stakes are designed as launching pads to lucrative stakes at Kentucky Downs’ elite meet that runs Sept. 1, 6, 8, 9 and 13th, as well as destinations in their own right. Following a concept popularized by the Breeders’ Cup, the four winners of the Preview stakes are guaranteed a spot in the corresponding race at Kentucky Downs, as well as having their entry fees waived, a savings of $3,000 or $4,000 for the owners, depending on the race.
Even before entries are taken Thursday morning, the creation of three new grass stakes and the reconfiguration of a fourth are clearly succeeding in their mission.
“The whole purpose of transferring all the money is to keep horses in the state, to make the circuit stronger and just to keep people from shipping out,” Bork said, referencing the $2.9 million total that Kentucky Downs and the Kentucky HBPA are transferring this year to Ellis.
The four $100,000 Ellis Park stakes, distance (with their corresponding race at Kentucky Downs and its distance):
Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, 5 1/2 furlongs ($500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, 6 1/2 furlongs on Sept. 8)
Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, mile ($500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, mile on Sept. 8)
Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile ($750,000 Kentucky Downs Tourist Mile on Sept. 1)
Kentucky Downs Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup, 1 1/4 miles ($750,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Calumet Farm Turf Cup, 1 1/2 miles on Sept. 8)
All are new stakes, though the Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile replaced the 1 1/16-mile Cliff Guilliams, which carried a $50,000 purse.
Angaston ‘a completely different horse’ on grass
Many of the horses running likely would have run out of state had their trainers not had the chance to stay home. Horsemen are definitely hoping that their runners prove good enough to merit coming back at Kentucky Downs. And for some, particularly fillies and mares where getting that first stakes victory or further padding the resume of a future broodmare, the Ellis races have their own important implication.
Lon Wiggins’ main goal for his gelding Angaston is Kentucky Downs, so he worked back to find a logical prep and found it in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint. But Wiggins isn’t looking at the $500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint. He’s looking at Kentucky Downs’ $300,000 Franklin-Simpson on Sept. 13 to run Angaston against fellow 3-year-olds.
And if Angaston doesn’t run well, Wiggins has got the option of the $100,000 starter-allowance race Kentucky Downs is staging as a prep for the Claiming Crown turf sprint stakes in late fall at Gulfstream Park.
“That’s our main goal,” Wiggins said of the Franklin-Simpson, adding of a prep, “The only other stakes out there is one at Saratoga (the $100,000 Quick Call for 3-year-olds). We didn’t want to ship all that way, and we didn’t know how he’d come back after that. If it wasn’t for this race at Ellis, we would have shipped to Saratoga, no doubt. He probably would have been one of the top three choices in that race. But this is the reason we stayed. We have to run against older horses, but he ran well against Will Call and older horses in his last race,” when second by a head in Churchill Downs allowance race.
Angaston, owned by Jim and Michelle Jankiewicz of Georgetown, Ky., has three wins and four seconds in his past seven starts, but he’s really blossomed when Wiggins ran him on turf for the first time May 10. Angaston ripped off two allowance victories and then was nailed at the wire by the 4-year-old Will Call, winner of the Grade 3 Churchill Downs Turf Sprint, in a high-level allowance. Will Call also is nominated to the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint and would be among the favorites if he runs.
This from a horse who earned his first victory in a $16,000 maiden-claiming event at Indiana Grand last summer in his second start, following his debut at Ellis Park in which Angaston lost by 18 lengths. The gelding’s form improved as he worked his way up from higher-priced claiming races at Churchill and over Turfway Park’s synthetic surface, finishing a well-beaten second to the talented Hemp Hemp Hurray in Turfway’s Animal Kingdom Stakes. But the big leap forward came when Wiggins put Angaston on the turf.
“He’s a completely different horse than he was, just maturity, really,” Wiggins said, adding of the possibility of losing the son of the Australian-born stallion Denman in a claiming race, “It’s not a very fashionable sire. We thought we had a free pass. Luckily we got away with it, and we wanted to get him eligible for starter-allowance races.
“Anyway, it worked out well. He had a good winter and he’s had a good year this year. Once we put him on the grass, he was a different horse.”
Brian Hernandez, who will be at Ellis Sunday after riding McCraken in Saturday’s Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga, has been on Angaston for all his turf starts.
Because Angaston was sent to trainers Jordan Blair and Luis Jurado for the winter to race at Turfway, Wiggins saw the gelding this spring for the first time in several months. “Right out of the gate, first time we ran him, he was just locked and loaded from the word go,” Wiggins, who winters in Arkansas, said of the turf debut. “Brian said it wasn’t a question of if he was going to win, it was a question of how far. Like I told the owner, ‘I’m glad we got to find out that he can run on the grass rather than someone else finding out he can run on the grass.”
Said Hernandez: “Since he’s run on the grass over at Churchill, he’s had three really good races. To get as close as we did last time to Will Call, that’s impressive. You’ve got to go into this race thinking you’ve got a huge chance. This time we have to face older horses again, but we’ve got the 3-year-old stakes at Kentucky Downs to look forward to.”
Walsh duo: Dubara in Ladies, Extravagant Kid in Sprint
Trainer Brendan Walsh plans to run Dubara in the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf and Extravagant Kid in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint. Both will run for $75,000 because they aren’t Kentucky-bred. But to Walsh, it’s still good enough money to run the Florida-bred Extravagant Kid and British-bred Dubara at Ellis.
“Otherwise we’d have had to ship somewhere,” he said at Churchill Downs. “It’s great they’re doing all this. You don’t have the people going to Saratoga that you had six, seven years ago. People are staying here. The money is better at Ellis, the racing is of a much-higher standard. It’s nice that they have a prep weekend for Kentucky Downs. People don’t have to go here, there and everywhere. You can prep them here.”
Sold at Tattersalls for about $250,000 in December and imported from England, Dubara made her U.S. and 2018 debut in the $50,000 Ellis Park Turf, rallying to finish third while losing by only half-length to victorious Bonnie Arch, who also will be in the Ladies Turf.
“She found the turns a little sharp and hadn’t run for a while,” Walsh said. “She was a little rusty but she’s come out of it really well, so she should move up again this weekend.
“She’s got a good pedigree and hopefully we can get some large black type (a stakes win) this time. I think they were hoping she’d really fit over here.”
Owner David Ross claimed the 5-year-old Extravagant Kid for $75,000 in January at Gulfstream Park. He won that allowance/optional claiming race with authority, then was eighth in the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint on dirt but rebounded to be a good second in a $100,000 stakes over Woodbine’s synthetic surface. In his last start, Extravagant Kid was fifth of 12 in another $100,000 stakes over Presque Isle’s synthetic track.
“He ran a really good race the day we claimed him, against some nice horses,” Walsh said. “I ran him in a stakes at Gulfstream, and he got drawn inside (post 1) and he didn’t care for it. It just didn’t work out. He ran a really good second at Woodbine to that horse nobody can beat up there (Pink Lloyd). I mean, they ran a super fast time. At Presque Isle, he dwelt at the gate, and he never does that. He missed the break and came flying, made up a bunch of ground. So he didn’t actually run as bad as it looks on paper. We