By Jennie Rees and Tim Wilkin (Coady photo of Red Knight, inside, winning last year’s Kentucky Turf Cup.)
With an unprecedented six graded stakes offering purses of at least $1 million, Saturday’s racing program makes a strong case as Kentucky Downs’ best card ever.
Headed by the $1.7 million, Grade 2 FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup, the 12-race program features four Grade 2 stakes and two Grade 3s. The special first post is 11:30 a.m. Central. FanDuel TV will televise all the races live from the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
An all-graded stakes Pick 5 and Pick 4, both 50-cent bets, will close out the program. Each stakes will offer 50-cent Super Hi-5 wagering, with the pool carrying over to the next race if no one correctly picks the top five finishers in order.
“This race date is a circle and must bet for horseplayers throughout North America,” said Ken Kirchner, Kentucky Downs’ director of simulcasting and wagering. “There are six million-dollar graded stakes races with mostly full fields, and betting value can be found in every race. Kentucky Downs is the best racing and betting in the country this weekend.”
Each stakes includes $400,000 available for registered Kentucky-bred horses through the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. Even for horses born outside the commonwealth, the $1.3 million base purse for the Kentucky Turf Cup and $600,000 base purses for the other stakes remain the largest or among the largest purses in America for their respective turf divisions.
Outside serving as a Breeders’ Cup host, no track comes close to matching Kentucky Downs’ lineup of million-dollar races, with a total of 11 offered at the meet. Churchill Downs had three Derby Week with a fourth moved to Ellis Park. Belmont Park’s spring meet had two seven-figure stakes, while its sister Saratoga Race Course had three.
Kentucky Downs also stages its last of three stand-alone, live-money handicapping tournaments that comprise the King of the Turf Handicapping Challenge. Saturday’s buy-in is $800, with $400 for the entry fee that goes toward the prize money and the other $400 for the player’s live bankroll. Prizes will include Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seats and berths and travel packages to the National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas. The player with the highest cumulative bankroll after playing in all three tournaments will be awarded Global Tote belt trophy.
“Every year, the racing at Kentucky Downs gets better and better, and it’s become a must-visit for me annually, even with all the other racing excitement this time of year,” said Peter Thomas Fornatale, host of the award-winning In the Money Players’ Podcast. “The competitiveness of the racing makes Kentucky Downs a can’t-miss betting opportunity for me, and I love the format of the King-of-the-Turf contests.”
Here’s a look at the stakes:
$1.7M FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup (G2): Red Knight shoots for repeat as Maker seeks record sixth win
Headed by four Grade 1 winners and a trio of Grade 2 victors, an overflow field of 16 was entered Monday for Saturday’s $1.7 million FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup. The Grade 2 stakes at 1 1/2 miles is a “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race for the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita.
Twelve horses can start, with another four entries on the “also-eligible” list needing scratches in order to run.
Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest trainer, entered four horses in pursuit of a record sixth victory in the Kentucky Turf Cup. That includes last year’s winner Red Knight, who returns at age 9 as a Grade 1 winner after taking Belmont Park’s Man o’ War in May. Maker also is running Therapist, who at age 8 earned his first Grade 1 victory when he took Monmouth Park’s United Nations in his last start, a race in which Red Knight was a late-running third.
The only horse in the body of the race who isn’t a graded-stakes winner is the Maker-trained Me and Mr. C, who got into the overflow field by virtual of capturing the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at Ellis Park. Even so, Me and Mr. C is a five-time stakes winner. Maker’s fourth entrant, Grade 2-placed Red Run, needs four scratches to get into the starting gate.
Trainer Brendan Walsh entered two-time Grade 1 winner Santin and Keeneland’s Grade 2 Elkhorn winner Verstappen. Santin, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic and the Arlington Million staged at Churchill Downs, comes into the Kentucky Turf Cup off a second-place finish in the 2023 Arlington Million, which was relocated to Virginia.
Paulo Lobo, who teamed with jockey Joe Talamo to win the Kentucky Turf Cup two years ago with the Argentine-bred Imperador, returns to the 1 1/2-mile stakes with Nautilus, a Grade 1 winner last year in his native Brazil. Nautilus won an off-the-turf Ellis Park allowance race by a nose in his last start.
Other graded-stakes winners include Spooky Channel and Never Explain. Trainer Chris Block brings Another Mystery back for another crack at the Kentucky Turf Cup after the horse finished third last year by a nose and a neck. Kitodan, winner of last year’s Dueling Grounds Derby (G3), will run back in the Turf Cup after finishing seventh in the meet’s opening-day FanDuel Tapit Stakes.
The horse to catch could be the Mark Casse-trained Get Smoking, who finished second by a neck in the Grade 2 Wise Dan at Ellis Park and then was fourth by a total of a length in the Ellis Park prep for the Kentucky Turf Cup.
A Kentucky-bred winner of the Kentucky Turf Cup will bring home $1 million; a non-Kentucky-bred winner will still earn about $800,000.
$1 million Ainsworth Turf Sprint (G2): Nobals gets another crack at Troy winner Cogburn
The 25th running of the Grade 2, $1 million Ainsworth Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds and up at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs has Breeders’ Cup implications. The race is a “Win and You’re In” event and the victor gets a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
The top two finishers from the Grade 3 Troy Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 5 will line up next to each other in the starting gate in the six-furlong Turf Sprint. Cogburn, the winner of the Troy, lines up in post position seven and Nobals, who was second by three-quarters of a length, is next door in No. 8.
Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Cogburn, owned by Clark O. Brewster and L. William and Corinne Heligbrodt, is unbeaten in his last three starts, his first three on grass. Before the Troy win, the son of Not This Time won a pair of ungraded stakes at Lone Star. Ricardo Santana has the mount.
Trained by Larry Rivelli, Nobals, owned by Vince Foglia’s Patricia’s Hope, will try to dictate pace, which he has done most of his career. Gerardo Corrales will ride.
Rivelli also has One Timer, owned by Foglia and Richard Ravin. The son of Trappe Shot won the Grade 2 Franklin-Simpson at Kentucky Downs last year at odds of just under 20-1. E.T.Baird, who rode him that day, has the call here.
Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse sends out late-running Olympic Runner, a son of Gio Ponti. Owned by Gary Barber, Olympic Runner has one win in four starts this year, that coming in his last start, an allowance at Colonial on Aug. 5. Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano will ride.
Irad Ortiz Jr. takes over the riding chores for trainer Chad Brown’s Dr. Zempf, who starts from post 12. Since coming to Brown’s barn from Europe, the son of Dark Angel, who is owned by Ibrahim Rachid’s Rachid’s Racing, has a win in three starts. He was fourth in the Grade 1 Jaipur when last seen in June.
Six-year-old Gear Jockey, winner of the Grade 3 Turf Sprint at Kentucky Downs in 2021, has only raced once this year, that being a sixth-place finish in the Van Clief Stakes at Colonial on July 22. He is trained by Rusty Arnold, owned by Calumet Farm and will be ridden by Jose Lezcano.
Also entered are George A. Sharp’s Front Run the Fed for trainer Caio Caramori and jockey Reylu Gutierrez; Bad Beat Brian, owned by Marsico Brothers Racing, trained by Brittany Vanden Berg and to be ridden by her husband, Chris Emigh; Three Diamond Farm’s Anaconda for Joe Sharp and Joel Rosario; Robert Cotran’s Eamonn for Joe Orseno and John Velazquez; Exline-Border Racing, SAF Racing, Richard Hausman and Stonestreet Stables’ Dream Shake for Michael Stidham and Tyler Gaffalione and Calvin Nguyen and Joey Tran’s Noble Reflection for George Papaprodromou and Florent Geroux.
$1M Exacta Systems Franklin-Simpson (G2): Ward sends Playlist against boys
Trainer Wesley Ward will try to beat the boys when he runs the filly Playlist in the seventh running of the Grade 2, $1 million Exacta Systems Franklin-Simpson Stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Kentucky Downs.
Playlist has won three of four starts this year for owners Westerberg Limited, Mrs. John Magnier, Jonathan Poulin, Derrick Smith and Michael B. Tabor. The daughter of Uncle Mo is on a three-race winning streak and will be making her stakes debut with Hall of Famer John Velazquez in the saddle.
Ward won the inaugural running of the Franklin-Simpson with Master Merion in 2017.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen watched Mike McCaty’s Private Creed win the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint at Kentucky Downs last year. He is hoping the son of Jimmy Creed can add another trophy from the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
Private Creed won the Juvenile Sprint at 6 ½-furlongs, the same distance as the Franklin-Simpson. He is winless this year in five starts but is coming off a rallying second-place finish in the Mahony at 5 1/2-furlongs at Saratoga on Aug. 13. Private Creed, who has won three of seven career starts on firm turf, will be ridden by Joel Rosario.
Private Creed went off at 11-1 odds in the Mahony and his upset bid was thwarted by another longshot in Closethegame Sugar, who is co-owned (along with Edwin Diaz) and trained by Adam Rice. This lightly raced son of Girvin has won two of three career starts and was second in the other try. Jose Lezcano gets the call to ride.
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., fresh off his fifth riding title at Saratoga, will ride the Rusty Arnold-trained Sweet Cherry Pie for the first time for owner BBN Racing. The son of Twirling Candy will be making his grass debut after two wins in five starts on dirt.
BBN Racing will also be represented by Mo Stash for trainer Vicki Oliver. The early speed horse finished sixth in her last try, the Grade 2 Secretariat at Colonial on Aug. 12. The son of Mo Town gets Rafael Bejarano in the saddle.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will be looking for a better effort from Starlight Racing and Harrell Ventures’ Bat Flip in this spot. When last seen, the son of Good Magic finished eighth of nine in the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga, which was run over good turf.
That was his first start since November. On firm ground, he has won two of three. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will ride.
Defending riding champion Tyler Gaffalione will be the pilot of Talla Racing, Rockingham Ranch and David A. Bernsen’s Behind Enemy Lines for trainer Jack Sisterson. The son of Sioux Nation was last seen finishing fifth in the Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga.
Also entered are C&H Diamond Racing’s Frosted Departure for trainer Kenny McPeek and jockey Brian Hernandez; St. George Stable’s Mounsieur Coco for Fausto Gutierrez and Martin Chaun; BG Stables’ Lugan Knight for Michael McCarthy and Florent Geroux; Barry and Joni Butzow’s Golden Bandit for Coty Rose and Adam Beschizza and K&R Racing Stable and Town Branch Racing’s Two of a Kind for Brian Lynch and Declan Cannon.
$1 million AGS Ladies Turf Sprint (G2): Mott brings Wakanaka
Wakanaka has hooked some of the toughest turf horses in North America — including competing at various distances and racing against the boys — and could be the one to beat in the $1 million AGS Ladies Turf Sprint’s field of nine.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the 5-year-old Irish-bred Wakanaka comes into the Grade 2, 6 1/2-furlong Ladies Turf Sprint off a second-place effort in Saratoga’s Grade 3 Caress at 5 1/2 furlongs. Before that, she was third in Belmont Park’s Grade 1 Just A Game at a mile. A multiple stakes-winner in Italy before coming to the United States last year, Wakanaka won Woodbine’s Grade 2 Dance Smartly last year as well as the $350,000 Fall Harvest Stakes on Breeders’ Cup weekend at Keeneland.
Bridlewood Farm’s Bay Storm is back a year after she lost the Ladies Turf Sprint by a nose to the highly accomplished Campanelle. The 5-year-old Bay Storm earned a free berth in the Ladies Turf Sprint by virtue of winning the $200,000 prep at Ellis Park.
Trainer Mark Casse as a strong contender in Our Flash Drive, a multiple graded-stakes winner on turf and synthetic at Woodband winner of Saratoga’s De La Rose Stakes last year.
Other contenders: multiple stakes-winner Train to Artemus; California invaders Unbridled Mary and Tony Ann; Saratoga allowance winner Gal in a Rush; and Quaria Comet, a Kentucky Downs maiden-winner last year who was second by a neck in the Ellis Park prep for the Ladies Sprint.
$1M Castle Hill Gaming Ladies Turf (G3): Will they toast New Year’s Eve?
Grade 2 winner New Year’s Eve dropped from a good fourth place in Belmont’s Grade 1 Just A Game to take the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, earning a fees-paid spot in the mile, $1 million Castle Hill Gaming Ladies Turf. New Year’s Eve was fourth in last year’s Dueling Grounds Oaks at 1 5/16 miles.
Chad Brown sends out Haughty, winner of last year’s Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga as she seeks her first victory in four starts this year. Hall of Famer Bill Mott is hoping that White Frost can turn one of her six career seconds (out of 11 starts) in a victory in this mile stakes for fillies and mares.
Henrietta Topham, winner of Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Mint Julep in June, was a very good fourth in this stakes last year. Other contenders include Keeneland’s Grade 3 Valley View winner Sparkle Blue (who narrowly lost last year’s Grade 1 American Oaks at Santa Anita), stakes-winner Regal Realm and 2022 Kentucky Downs allowance winner Querobin Dourada.
$1M Aristocrat Ladies Marathon (G3): Vergara, Personal Best square off
A competitive group of six fillies and mares will contest the 12th running of the Grade 3, $1 million Aristocrat Ladies Marathon, which will be the third race on Saturday’s 12-race card at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
Gary Broad’s Vergara and Joseph Allen’s Personal Best have both won at the 1 5/16-mile distance and those victories came at Kentucky Downs.
The 4-year-old Vergara, trained by Graham Motion, won the Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs last year, going gate-to-wire, which is her preferred style of running. Vergara will be ridden by Joel Rosario, who rode her to the win here last year.
Personal Best, a 4-year-old daughter of Tapit, is from the barn of Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. She broke her maiden at this trip last year at Kentucky Downs. She had kept graded-stakes company all year, winning the Grade 3 La Prevoyante Stakes at Gulfstream Park. She has also hit the board in two other Grade 3s. She was second in the Orchid Stakes at Gulfstream and then third in the Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland. Jockey Irad Ortiz is the pilot.
Trainer Saffie Joseph’s 5-year-old mare Transient, owned by Bob Edwards’ e Five Racing Thoroughbreds, was second in the La Prevoyante Stakes, beaten a neck. The daughter of Sea the Stars enters this off a win the Powder Break Stakes in his last start, on July 15, at Gulfstream and will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalone.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has 4-year-old Sinfiltre, who spent the summer at Churchill Downs. The daughter of Uncle Mo has won three of six starts this year and will be making her graded stakes debut for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
The 5-year-old mare Lady Rockstar will be seeking her first win of 2023 for trainer Brendon Walsh and owner Steve Parkin of Clipper Logistics. By Frankel, Lady Rockstar has run in four Grade 3 races this year with her best finish being a third in the Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream on Jan. 28.
The 4-year-old filly Glenall, trained by Caio Caramori and owned by George A. Sharp, has won two of five starts this year. The 4-year-old daughter of Coulsty, will be making her graded stakes debut and will be ridden by Reylu Gutierrez.