(KY Downs / All Photos by Coady Photography)
From the KY Downs Media Team:
Led by a record-smashing $20,849,967 wagered on Saturday’s showcase program, the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs completed North America’s most lucrative six-date run with betting totaling $74,088,532.
The previous records were the $17,437,731 on the corresponding Saturday as part of the $59,828,441 total bet last year. That’s an increase of 24 percent.
“Once again, the two groups that make horse racing possible — horse owners and horseplayers — responded enthusiastically to our meet and racing product,” said Ron Winchell, Kentucky Downs’ co-owner and co-managing partner. “We are grateful for everyone’s participation and pleased that Kentucky Downs is a much-anticipated and embraced spot on the racing calendar.”
Reflecting a 37 percent increase over last year’s record, purses paid out to horse owners totaled $15,974,800, not counting the $1,000 going to horses who finished sixth through last in every non-stakes race. That actually is about $700,000 more than was originally offered in the condition book, the increase coming from splitting some maiden races and running two divisions of the TVG Stakes that both maintained the $400,000 purse.
Of the total purses, $5,870,340 came from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund (KTDF) supplements for horses born in the state and sired by Kentucky stallions. However, the base purses for which horses compete regardless of birthplace have risen to where Kentucky Downs’ stakes still are hard to top outside the Breeders’ Cup.
By way of example, the Argentine-bred Imperador captured the $1 million Calumet Turf Cup, for which the base purse was $550,000 and the Irish-bred The Lir Jet took the $600,000, Grade 2 Franklin-Simpson, with a $300,000 base purse. In addition, German-bred Dalika finished second in the Grade 3 Calumet Bourbon Ladies Turf, the Chilean-bred Lagertha came in third in the Grade 3 Calumet Bourbon Ladies Turf and British-bred La Lune was second in her U.S. debut in Sunday’s Kentucky Downs Ladies Marathon.
“Kentucky-bred horses remain the benchmark and the generous KTDF program shows that it literally pays to be a Kentucky-bred,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ Vice President for Racing. “That said, our goal is to serve as a mini all-turf Breeders’ Cup and to stamp ourselves as truly an international launching pad to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. We took a big step in that direction this year.”
Horse owners flocked to Franklin to watch their horses run and to be part of Kentucky Downs’ unique atmosphere. This year the track added the air-conditioned VIP Chalet.
“This is our first time here,” said horse owner Dr. Joel Politi. “It’s very different than going to any other racetrack. I’ve been to racetracks in Europe a bunch. I wouldn’t say it’s a European feel exactly, but it does have a sense of that. You can actually see the races better live than I thought you’d be able to. It’s just a small-track atmosphere that’s obviously very boutique-y and something very charming.”
Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey was among the many new sponsors at the meet.
“We’re really excited to be a part of the meet, specifically the Music City with Nelson’s Green Brier,” said Brian Peters, state manager for Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey. “This is our first year with this type of activation. It’s really unique for our company, in fact. We’re really excited about the developing partnership. Everything has been absolutely fantastic. It’s been a perfect day at the races. It’s been a perfect day as far as the weather is concerned, a lot of friendly people. We’re excited to continue the partnership going forward.”
Except for some rain on opening day, the meet enjoyed spectacular weather. That included Saturday, when NBC was on hand for the first time to televise live the two Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series stakes, with Imperador earning a fees-paid spot in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Longines Turf (G1) and Gear Jockey the same in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).
“Anyone who saw the packed hotels and restaurants in and round Franklin know that Kentucky Downs is an economic engine for the region,” said Marc Falcone, co-owner and co-managing partner with Winchell. “This is fueled by the success of our historical horse racing operation at The Mint Gaming Hall. The Kentucky legislators and leadership in both the state House and Senate are among the meet’s unsung heroes who back in February protected this innovative parimutuel technology. It’s truly a win-win-win for those communities, the state’s agribusiness and tourism and the horsemen. A significant portion of the money earned by horse owners this past week will go right into buying horses at Keeneland’s yearling sale. That helps everyone.”
The most significant renovation to the turf course — with the heavily-traveled five-eighths of a mile around the far turn dug up and replaced with uniform material and smoothed out before being replaced with sod — was well-received. So was the new system of temporary rails, where a rail into and around the far turn and into the stretch was taken down after the second and fourth days of racing to allow for a fresh expanse of turf.
“I thought taking the rail down three times was the best thing I’ve ever seen,” said trainer Rusty Arnold, whose three wins including the FanDuel Turf Sprint with Gear Jockey, owned by Calumet Farm’s Brad Kelley, a Bowling Green native who grew up in Franklin and who previously owned Kentucky Downs. “That two days on a fresh track every time was great. The crowds were good. The atmosphere was good. It was good racing, had the strongest jock colony in the country. Horses came from everywhere. It was just a great week.
“We got a guitar (signed by Reba McEntire as the trophy for the Turf Sprint) for Mr. Kelley. I’ve got two bottles of whiskey I like. Everything was good the whole time. It was great. A lot of new ideas. A lot of fun down here. Their new chalet is fabulous.”
Meet crowns: Rosario (jockey); Godolphin (owner); Walsh, Maker, Asmussen (trainer)
Joel Rosario clinched his first Kentucky Downs riding title on the second day of the meet, when he won five races for the second straight day. He went on to win seven more, including four on the final card to extend his track record total to 17. The previous record was the 12 won by Rafael Bejarano in 2004, matched by Florent Geroux in 2015 and 2016 and by Rosario on the fourth day of the meet.
Rosario rode 53 horses for a 32 percent strike rate. His mounts earned just shy of $3 million, at $2,952,097. Tyler Gaffalione, the 2020 meet leader, finished second with eight wins.
Rosario’s big meet reflected agent Ron Anderson’s decision to ride at Kentucky Downs instead of the final two days of the Saratoga meet.
“Ron is the one who is making the decision for everything, so thanks to him for all we’ve done,” Rosario said. “We really had a fantastic meet. I’m very blessed. Thanks to all the people who have supported us, the trainers, owners and everybody involved. We’re really very excited for the meet. This was the first time we stayed here for the whole meet. We really had a lot of chances with horses, and been lucky and winning.”
Rosario went 0 for 19 at Kentucky Downs, including 0 for 14 in 2019, until last year, when he went 3 for 14.
“It’s beautiful here,” he said. “I like it how it is, like a country fair.”
Brendan Walsh pulled into a tie with Mike Maker and Steve Asmussen for leading trainer with his final starter as Family Way gave Walsh his fourth win of the meet in the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Marathon. Walsh won three races Saturday — including the Grade 2 Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Franklin-Simpson to pull into the hunt.
“I didn’t even know, so that’s nice,” Walsh said. “I think that’s the first time I’ve won any trainer’s title. I love this place. The last few years have been very good to me. We always look forward to it. It’s something different, and it’s just growing. I was trying to tell somebody the other day, you come here seven, eight years ago and there was like two trailers here. That’s not that long ago. It’s developed so much.
“People you talk to, they love to come here. Big fields, the betting handle is unbelievable here. You have to have the right horse. It’s great. It’s something different. I think that’s what makes its uniqueness. And if the horse handles it, they’ll be very well-rewarded.”
Maker, the track’s all-time win leader, earned a piece of his record sixth training title. He also had 10 seconds and 10 thirds while his horses ran out $1,065,892 to lead the money standings.
Asmussen earned a share of his first Kentucky Downs training title. His four wins included Snapper Sinclair taking a division of the $400,000 TVG Stakes for his record third stakes victory at the track.
Godolphin finished with four victories for its first Kentucky Downs’ owner crown, including winning the $1 million WinStar Mint Million with Pixelate and the $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks with Adventuring.
“It’s a great atmosphere down here,” said Jimmy Bell, president and racing manager of Godolphin’s North America operation. “Everybody really enjoys making the trip down here. This could be ‘horses for courses’ a little bit. Everybody comes in with great expectations but not all find the going to their liking. But it makes it interesting for racing: the undulations, the turns, the rising ground coming down the stretch.
“We’ve had four fantastic wins here from all different kinds of ways.”
Wagering at Kentucky Downs’ 2021 meet
Day Date (races) handle
Sunday Sept. 5 (11) $10,762,322
Monday Sept. 6 (11) $10,186,247
Wednesday Sept. 8 (10) $7,965,161
Thursday Sept. 9 (11) $10,425,558
Saturday Sept.11 (11) $20,849,967
Sunday Sept.12 (11) $13,899,277
Wagering at Kentucky Downs 2020 meet
Monday Sept. 7 (10) $7,877,475
Wednesday Sept. 9 (10) $7,090,577
Thursday Sept. 10 (10) $8,983,982
Saturday Sept. 12 (11) $17,437,773
Tuesday Sept. 15 (11) $8,950,973
Wednesday Sept. 16 (10) $9,487,705
Total betting on Kentucky Downs’ live racing since 2011
Year (dates) all-sources total
2021 (6) $74,088,532
2020 (6) $59,828,444
2019 (5) $41,239,699
2018 (5) $36,421,721
2017 (5) $30,246,888
2016 (5) $22,540,764
2015 (5) $16,887,134
2014 (5) $15,880,755
2013 (5) $12,814,891
2012 (5) $7,570,731
2011 (4) $3,596,3540) – (10 races) $8,983,982 Day 4 (Sat. 9/12 – (11 race437,731 (ues. 9/15) – (11 races) $8,950,973 Day 6 (Wed
Evolution of purses at Kentucky Downs
since advent of Historical Horse Racing
Note: 2011 is the last year that purses weren’t enhanced by HHR
Total purses since 2011
Year (days) total purses races avg per race
2021 (6) $15,974,800 63 $253,568
2020 (6) $11,668,473 62 $188,201
2019 (5) $11,520,380 50 $230,407
2018 (5) $10,273,630 50 $205,472
2017 (5) $8,625,396 50 $172,508
2016 (5) $7,923,476 50 $158,470
2015 (5) $6,609,355 48 $137,694
2014 (5) $4,875,772 50 $97,515
2013 (5) $4,150,687 50 $83,013
2012 (5) $2,086,650 43 $48,526
2011 (4) $769,810 30 $25,660
Average number of starters per race since 2011