|Kentucky Downs Preview Weekend at Ellis Park returns this weekend after a year’s hiatus with the purses for those stakes doubled from 2021. All the races will be shown on TVG.
Ellis Park is staging three turf stakes Saturday and four on Sunday, all positioned to be stepping stones to the big-money races at Kentucky Downs’ all-grass late-summer meet. The winners of the Ellis stakes receive a guaranteed fees-paid berth in the corresponding race at Kentucky Downs, which races Aug. 31 and Sept. 2, 3, 7, 9, 10 and 13 in Franklin, Ky.
Five of the Ellis Park stakes went from $100,000 to $200,000, which includes $75,000 for Kentucky-bred horses from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund (KTDF). The $250,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, a launching pad to the $1.7 million FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup on Sept. 9, got a raise from $125,000 in 2021 and features a base purse of $150,000 for all horses and another $100,000 for Kentucky-breds.
The one stakes this weekend that doesn’t carry Kentucky Downs Preview in its name is Sunday’s Grade 3 Pucker Up, a stakes for 3-year-old fillies that Ellis Park inherited from Arlington Park. The $300,000 Pucker Up is the richest race of the Ellis Park meet and has a base purse of $225,000. Its winner receives a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Dueling Grounds Oaks.
The weekend’s stakes are largely funded by purse money and Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund (KTDF) purse supplements generated at Kentucky Downs. The regular purse money is transferred to Ellis Park in an arrangement with the Kentucky HBPA, which represents horsemen at the commonwealth’s five thoroughbred tracks. KTDF allocations require approval by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
In the first year of the partnership between the tracks in 2018, Arklow swept the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at Ellis Park and the corresponding 1 1/2-mile stakes at Kentucky Downs en route to a career in which he would earn more than $3 million and become a Grade 1 winner.
The 2023 purse enhancements made the Ellis Park stakes competitive with graded stakes at Saratoga and Del Mar, in some instances even offering more money for Kentucky-breds. That’s possible because of action the Kentucky General Assembly took in 2020 when it voted to protect historical horse racing, the pari-mutuel electronic gaming at the state’s racetracks and track extensions that has allowed Ellis Park to offer record purses and Kentucky Downs to offer some of the largest purses in the world.
In recognition of their role in support of horse racing, and the jobs and economic development it has created in the HHR era, Ellis Park is honoring several legislators by having Rep. Al Gentry (Louisville) present a trophy on Saturday and Reps. Jonathon Dixon (Henderson) and Suzanne Miles (Owensboro) make presentations Sunday. Also spotlighted as a trophy presenter Saturday is Henderson County Judge Executive Brad Schneider, who passionately testified about what Ellis Park and HHR mean to the community before a House committee in 2020. Bill Landes, the KHRC member who chairs the commission’s KTDF advisory committee and Kentucky Downs’ Vice President for Racing Ted Nicholson also will present trophies Sunday.
Kentucky Downs Preview Weekend
Race 7 – $200,000 KD Preview Ladies Turf Sprint
Race 8 – $200,000 KD Preview Dueling Grounds Derby
Race 9 – $200,000 KD Preview Mint Millions Turf Mile
Race 6 – $200,000 KD Preview Turf Sprint
Race 7 – $200,000 KD Preview Ladies Turf Mile
Race 8 – $300,000 Pucker Up (G3) for 3-year-old fillies
Race 9 – $250,000 KD Preview Turf Cup
The Kentucky Downs stakes for which Preview Weekend winners automatically qualify are all worth at least $1 million for Kentucky-bred horses and $600,000 for all other horses. Kentucky Downs’ Sept. 2 Mint Millions has a $2 million purse ($1 million base purse; $1 million KTDF), while the Sept. 9 FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup has been increased to $1.7 million, with a $1.3 million base purse.