From the KY Downs Media Team / Jennie Rees:

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.

Money keeps Spooky Channel at Ellis rather than Saratoga

(Amanda Hodges Weir photo of Spooky Channel winning the Fair Grounds’ Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Classic under Joel Rosario. Are those not the best silks for a horse with his name?)

Spooky Channel, running in Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup for the second time, is an example of money talking.

NBS Stable’s gelding, an $80,000 claim in April of 2021, finished second in his third start for his current connections in the KDP Turf Cup, then worth $125,000. As a Kentucky-bred, Spooky Channel will compete for the full $250,000 offered in Sunday’s stakes.

Trainer Jason Barkley, who grew up in Evansville and is the son of retired trainer Jeff Barkley, has horses this summer at Ellis Park and Saratoga, with a few at Churchill Downs’ Trackside Training Center. He kept Spooky Channel at Ellis with an eye on Kentucky Downs’ $1.7 million FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup, a Grade 2 race on Sept. 9 whose winner will get a free spot in the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.

“I don’t like to ship him around too much,” Barkley said. “We were able to stay home and run here for $250,000 as a stepping stone to Kentucky Downs. And if he, hopefully, were to win that, then on to the Breeders’ Cup.”

Spooky Channel comes into Sunday’s 1 1/4-mile stakes off a three-month freshening since he was a rallying third in Churchill Downs’ $1 million Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic, the Grade 1 race before the Kentucky Derby.

Naturally Barkley is a fan of what Kentucky Downs Preview Weekend has become, including serving as fees-paid qualifiers for the corresponding Kentucky Downs stakes.

“The locals, it gives them a shot to be ready for Kentucky Downs without having to ship around,” he said of the Ellis stakes. “It keeps horses in the state. Just like Spooky. He ran in a Grade 1 last time and we’re staying here. We could have gone to the Bowling Green at Saratoga for the same $250,000, but why ship for the same money when you could stay home? If this race had been a $100,000, I think we’d have had to change our options. The added money definitely keeps people around.”

Spooky Channel had just given Barkley the first graded-stakes score of his career in Keeneland’s Grade 3 Sycamore two races after the Ellis stakes in 2021 when the English Channel gelding suffered a tendon injury. While such soft-tissue injuries often send a horse into retirement or racing at a cheaper level, Spooky Channel has thrived since his return 14 months later this past Dec. 22. He won the Fair Grounds’ $100,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial in his first start back, was third in Sam Houston’s John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) then returned to New Orleans to take the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Classic for his 13th career victory in 29 starts. Barkley said the three-month layoff since the Old Forester was planned.

“Win, lose or draw, we were going to give him two or three weeks at the farm and then set him up for the summer,” he said. “He had a long winter, coming off an injury. He shipped to New Orleans, then he shipped over to Houston, back to New Orleans and shipped back up here. He can get a little light, so we just wanted to let him get a few weeks in a paddock and have him ready for a summer-fall campaign.

“I think he’s better than before he went out” with the injury, Barkley said. “He’s doing really well. His last couple of works have been pretty sharp. Time-wise on him, he’s never been a horse that’s going to work in a minute. But a mile-and-a-half turf horse doesn’t need to work a minute. But he’s been finishing up well and his gallop-outs have been pretty strong.”

James Graham has the mount.

DG Derby winner Kitodan resumes racing in KDP KY Turf Cup

(Grace Clark/Kentucky Downs photo of Kitodan winning last year’s $750,000, Grade 3 Dueling Grounds Derby under Gerardo Corrales)

Video interview with Eric Foster, includes cute b-roll of the trainer with Kitodan

Trainer and co-owner Eric Foster had to regroup last year when Churchill Downs’ canceled its Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes. Plan B was running his $80,000 claim Kitodan against older horses in Ellis Park’s mile turf stakes. Kitodan finished a good fifth that day, then gave Foster and his co-owners Doug Miller and Bill Wargel their first graded-stakes victory in Kentucky Downs’ Grade 3 Dueling Grounds Derby, then worth $750,000, at 20-1 odds.

Kitodan — a $9,000 yearling who has earned $779,641 —  went on to be selected the National HBPA’s Claiming Horse of the Year and also was the KTDF’s Horse of the Year, based on the most KTDF earnings in 2022.

A minor injury kept Kitodan out of the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. The 4-year-old resumes racing in Sunday’s $250,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at 1 1/4 miles.

“I almost think that’s better than going wide open for a mile; I think they get a little time to get a breather at a mile and a quarter,” Foster said of running the longer distance after an 11-month layoff. “I just think that’s the distance he wants.”

The major objective is the $1.7 million FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles, a Grade 2 stakes whose winner gets a fees-paid berth in the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.

“We’re excited to go back down there because he likes that track,” Foster said of Kentucky Downs. “We’re still excited to win every race we could win. But that boost in the money helped a lot, I’ll tell you that. That’s quite a bit of money at one time to let us do things we want and to be able to reinvest some of that in the barn.”

Foster not only has a barn but a farm in Utica. “We were already planning to do fencing, so it helped pay for that,” he said, adding of the therapeutic electromagnetic devices for horses and other purchases, “… Just being able to go get what you want rather than getting what you can afford — it’s a big deal. A lot of times when you win a regular race, it just gets you caught up. When you win a big one, you get a little bounce, it helps your morale and it helps the whole barn.”

Francisco Arrieta picks up the mount.

As Kitodan heads into his 2023 debut, Foster said: “I think he’s doing great. I’m really excited for him, (but) I don’t want to put a jinx on him. Being the first race off a layoff, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t improve the second start. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if he wins easy. I’m not going to write him off if he doesn’t win.”

Foster also is running Ellis Park allowance winner Linguistic in Saturday’s $200,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf Sprint and Pure Panic in Sunday’s $200,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint.

Kentucky Downs Preview Weekend tidbits

(Grace Clark/Kentucky Downs photo of E.T. Baird and One Timer after they won the Grade 2 Franklin-Simpson for 3-year-old sprinters last September)

The Larry Rivelli-trained One Timer, winner of last year’s Grade 2 Franklin-Simpson for 3-year-old sprinters at Kentucky Downs, runs at his 10th track in 11 career starts in Sunday’s $200,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint at 5 1/2 furlongs. Off a nine-month layoff, the gelding won a handicap at Cincinnati’s Belterra Park then was third in Woodbine’s Grade 2 Highlander. The runner-up that day, Oceanic, also is in the Ellis stakes for Louisville-based owner Jordan Blair.

Rivelli also entered 4-for-5 Act a Fool, who in his last start won the Hawthorne Derby in his turf debut, in the KDP Dueling Grounds Derby at 1 1/8 miles.

Trainer Bret Calhoun hopes this weekend’s stakes are launching pads to Kentucky Downs with New Boss (in Saturday’s KDP Ladies Turf Sprint) and Excess Magic (in Sunday’s KDP Turf Sprint). It’s not just the $1 million purses they would run for, but he thinks the added distance of sprint races at Kentucky Downs will benefit his late-running sprinters. New Boss has largely been racing at 5 1/2 furlongs but would get 6 1/2 furlongs in Kentucky Downs’ AGS Ladies Sprint (G3). Excess Magic, who has been racing at five-eighths of a mile in Texas, should be able to show his best stuff in the Kentucky Downs’ Ainsworth Turf Sprint (G2) at six furlongs. The winner of that race gets an automatic sport in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita.

Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time win and earnings leader, has three horses in Sunday’s stakes, including Horseshoe Indiana’s Jon B. Schuster winner Me and Mr. Cand Texas Turf Classic winner King Cause in the $250,000 KDP Turf Cup. Heaven Streetwill make his first start for Maker and owners Paradise Farm Corps. and David Staudacher in the KDP Mint Millions Turf Mile after being purchased last month for $210,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s horses of racing age sale. Maker has two horses in Saturday’s stakes.

Among others entered: Millionaire and 11-time winner Just Might (trainer Michelle Lovelle) in the KDP Turf Sprint; Play Action Pass (Robert Medina), winner of Kentucky Downs’ Gun Runner Stakes last year, in the KDP Mint Millions Turf Mile; Bay Storm, who lost Kentucky Downs’ Ladies Sprint by a nose last year to heavy favorite Campanelle, is in Saturday’s prep at Ellis; Showgirl Lynne B, winner of Kentucky Downs’ $250,000 allowance race last year for fillies sold at Keeneland’s 2021 September yearling sale, is in the KDP Ladies Turf Sprint after being sold at Fasig-Tipton last month and turned over to Joe Sharp; Godolphin’s American Derby winner Wadsworth (Brad Cox) in the KDP Dueling Grounds Derby; Gray’s Fable (Brian Lynch), winner of the comparable race last year, is back in the KDP Mint Millions Turf Mile; Kentucky Downs’ Gun Runner second-place finisher Fuerteventura (Jonathan Thomas) goes in the Mint Millions prep; Bad Beat Brian (Brittany Vanden Berg), a Kentucky Downs allowance winner after finishing a close third in the turf sprint stakes at Ellis, returns in the KDP Turf Sprint; Henrietta Topham (Geoff Mulcahy) shoots for a repeat in Ellis Park’s turf mile stakes for fillies and mares; New Year’s Eve (Brendan Walsh), fourth in last year’s Dueling Grounds Oaks, comes into the KDP Ladies Turf Mile off of a respectable fourth in Belmont Park’s Grade 1 Just A Game.

Also notable: Trainer and Louisville product George Weaver, who swept Monmouth Park’s juvenile turf sprints with Amidst Waves in the Colleen and No Nay Mets in the Tyro, isn’t discounting bringing them to Kentucky Downs for the track’s lucrative 2-year-old stakes, worth $500,000 for Kentucky-breds and with a $250,000 base purse. “We will keep an eye on and consider those spots,” the New York-based Weaver said in a text.

Stories above by Jennie Rees, Kentucky Downs publicity

2023 Kentucky Downs stakes schedule

All stakes are on turf and include Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund

Thursday Aug. 31 — $500,000 FanDuel TVG Tapit Stakes, 3 year olds & up who have not won a stakes in 2023, mile and 70 yards.

Saturday Sept. 2 — $1 million Big Ass Fans Music City (G3), 3-year-old fillies, 6 1/2 furlongs; $1 million Gun Runner, 3-year-olds, one mile; $2 million The Mint Millions (G3), 3 year olds & up, one mile.

Sunday Sept. 3 — $1 million National Thoroughbred League Dueling Grounds Derby (G3), 3-year-olds, 1 5/16 miles; $1 million Dueling Grounds Oaks, 3-year-old fillies, 1 5/16 miles.

Thursday Sept. 7 — $500,000 Jeff Ruby’s One Dreamer, fillies and mares 3 years old & up who have not won a stakes in 2023, mile and 70 yards.

Saturday Sept. 9 — $1 million Ainsworth Turf Sprint (G2) *BC, 3-year-olds & up, six furlongs; $1 million FanDuel Turf Cup (G2) *BC, 3-year-olds & up, 1 1/2 miles; $1 million Exacta Systems Franklin-Simpson (G2), 3-year-olds, 6 1/2 furlongs; $1 million AGS Ladies Sprint (G2), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, 6 1/2 furlongs; $1 million Castle Hill Gaming Ladies Turf (G3), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, one mile; $1 million Aristocrat Ladies Marathon (G3), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, 1 5/16 miles.

Sunday, Sept. 10 — $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile, 2-year-olds, mile; $500,000 Global Tote Juvenile Fillies, 2-year-old fillies, mile.

Wednesday Sept. 13 — $500,000 Pepsi Juvenile Sprint, 2-year-olds, 6 1/2 furlongs; $500,000 Pepsi Untapable, 2-year-old fillies, 6 1/2 furlongs.

*BC: Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race – winner gets fees-paid berth in corresponding Breeders’ Cup race at Santa Anita

The Mint Gaming Hall properties
The Mint Gaming Hall at Kentucky Downs

Located near the Kentucky and Tennessee border, just off Interstate 65 and approximately 35 miles from Nashville, Tenn., Kentucky Downs features Historical Horse Racing gaming terminals and conducts live turf racing each September on America’s only “European-style” race course while offering among the highest purses in the world. Kentucky Downs is a pioneer in modern Historical Horse Racing, the electronic form of pari-mutuel betting on horses that has become one of the great financial success stories in the sport’s history. Racing has been conducted at the facility since 1990, when it was called Dueling Grounds.

Address: 5629 Nashville Road, P.O. Box 405, Franklin, KY 42135


Phone: 270.586.7778

2023 racing dates: Aug. 31 and Sept. 2, 3, 7, 9, 10 and 13.

The Mint Gaming Hall Bowling Green

Address: 2475 Scottsville Road, Ste. 101 & 102, Bowling Green, KY 42104


Phone: 270.353.6400

The Mint Gaming Hall Cumberland

Address: 244 Penny Lane, Williamsburg, KY 40769


Phone: 606-400-2888