From the KY Downs Media Team / Jennie Rees:
Kentucky Downs — home of the world’s largest maiden races — continued to add to its arsenal of graded stakes, with The Mint Ladies Sprint elevated to Grade 2 status and the newly promoted Grade 3 Music City for 3-year-old fillies giving the elite all-grass meet nine graded stakes for its seven-day run.
But track management acknowledged keen disappointment that Kentucky Downs still awaits being awarded its first Grade 1 stakes, those designated as the best in America.
“We’ve done everything expected of us to get one of our Grade 2 races across the finish line to Grade 1 stature. We put up the purse money, produced the field sizes and got the performances,” said Kentucky Downs Vice President for Racing Ted Nicholson. “That said, we will double down in 2023 in our commitment to getting our stakes to the top. We are determined to be not just a popular destination for American horses, but we are going to step up our efforts to attract overseas horses.”
To lure more Grade 1 winners to its stakes program, Kentucky Downs last year committed to increasing the total purse available to $1 million, including Kentucky-bred purse supplements, for any of three stakes if a Grade I winner competed. That was the carrot that lured Grade 1 winners Campanelle and Dalika to Kentucky Downs, where they won the Ladies Sprint and Ladies Turf, respectively.
“I’m glad to see the Ladies Sprint become a well-deserved Grade 2 and the track gaining another graded stakes,” said Wesley Ward, who trained Stonestreet Stables’ Campanelle and is a four-time leading trainer at Kentucky Downs. “But I sure think they’re due for a Grade 1, just with all the Grade/Group 1-quality horses that I’ve run there. I know how tough their stakes are: We have brought several Royal Ascot winners to Kentucky Downs that have won and some have been beaten.”
Despite the disappointment of not getting a Grade 1, Nicholson said there is plenty for Kentucky Downs to celebrate with Friday’s announcement of the 2023 graded stakes. The Ladies Sprint was one of only four existing graded stakes in the country to be promoted and one of the three bumped to a Grade 2. The Music City was among just four new Grade 3 races.
The 2023 Fan Duel Meet at Kentucky Downs will showcase four Grade 2 stakes. The others are the $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup for older horses at 1 1/2 miles, the $1 million FanDuel Turf Sprint and the $600,000 Franklin-Simpson for 3-year-old sprinters.
Kentucky Downs, which offers among the most lucrative purses overall in the world, will run Aug. 31 and Sept. 2, 3, 7, 9, 10 and 13 in 2023.
“Don’t get us wrong: We’re thrilled to get our fourth Grade 2 stakes, and the Ladies Sprint has just been a super race in recent years,” Nicholson said. “Now we’ve just got to get them to Grade 1 status.
“Certainly we’re very pleased to have been awarded our eighth graded stakes in the past seven years. And it’s very gratifying to gain graded status for such a young race as the Music City, which clearly has filled a gap on the national stakes schedule. It all speaks to the tremendous support we’ve gotten from owners and trainers.”
Kentucky Downs’ first graded stakes was the Kentucky Turf Cup, back in 2001. It did not receive another graded stakes until 2017, when the track earned two.
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 met Tuesday and Wednesday to crunch the data and Friday announced this year’s graded-stakes classifications. The committee reviewed 901 U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000. There will be 440 graded stakes overall for 2023, nine fewer than in 2022. The only new Grade 1 stakes for 2023 is Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster, while five existing Grade 1 races were demoted to Grade 2.
Kentucky Downs is coming off another record-shattering meet with a record $80,175,928 wagered over seven days and part of another, with heavy rain forcing postponement of one weekend card and part of another. A record $17,863,177 was paid to horse owners in purses and Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements.
Kentucky Downs’ short meet had a giant-sized impact on the 2022 Breeders’ Cup entries. Twenty-three horses who competed at Kentucky Downs, including 18 who ran this year, were entered among the 14 Breeders’ Cup races Nov. 4-5 at Keeneland. To put that in perspective: Of the 177 horses entered for the Breeders’ Cup, 10.73 percent ran at Kentucky Downs this year; 13 percent overall had run at the track at least once during the last three meets.
To crunch those numbers more: 16 horses among the 101 total entries — 15.8 percent — in the Breeders’ Cup’s seven turf races participated in the 2022 Kentucky Downs meet.
The ascent of Kentucky Downs’ graded-stakes program
2001 — Calumet Turf Cup becomes a Grade 3
2017 — Ladies Turf becomes a Grade 3
FanDuel Turf Sprint becomes a Grade 3
2018 — Ladies Sprint becomes a Grade 3
2019 — Franklin-Simpson becomes a Grade 3
2021 — WinStar Mint Million becomes a Grade 3
Calumet Turf Cup becomes a Grade 2
Franklin-Simpson becomes a Grade 2
2022 — Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby becomes a Grade 3
AGS Ladies Marathon becomes a Grade 3
FanDuel Turf Sprint becomes a Grade 2
2023 — The Mint Ladies Sprint becomes a Grade 2
Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey Music City becomes a Grade 3
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