Kentucky Downs will stage not only its first Grade 2 stakes in track history in 2021 but its second. The $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles and the $500,000 Franklin-Simpson Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters both were elevated from Grade 3 to Grade 2 status for the upcoming year.
In addition, the $750,000 Tourist Mile earned Grade 3 stature for the first time. That gives Kentucky Downs a total of six graded stakes out of its 14 stakes races eligible to be graded at some point. The Kentucky Turf Cup and the Tourist Mile both are for older horses as well as 3-year-olds.
Kentucky Downs, whose all-grass meet offers among the most lucrative purses in the world, will run Sept. 5, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12 in 2021.
Graded stakes are those judged the best in America, with Grade 1 being the very elite, followed by Grade 2 and Grade 3. 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 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup and Franklin-Simpson join Aqueduct’s Red Smith as the only Grade 3 stakes to be promoted to Grade 2 for 2021. The Tourist Mile is one of only four non-graded stakes to be elevated to Grade 3.
“This is huge for us,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ Vice President for Racing. “Getting the Calumet Farm to a Grade 2 has been a top priority. We’re hopeful that helps the race get selected as a ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge Series qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The Tourist Mile gaining graded recognition is big and will really help it attract even stronger fields. And with the upgrade, we’re going to work hard to stamp the Franklin-Simpson as the best turf sprint for 3-year-olds in the country.
“With the graded-stakes committee taking a hard line on adding or promoting races, we are very proud of what our racing program has accomplished. We can’t thank our horse owners and trainers enough for their support, with a special shout-out to the two horses who have won the Calumet Farm’s past three runnings: Donegal Racing’s two-time winner Arklow and Michael Hui’s Zulu Alpha. Both went on to become Grade 1 winners and are outstanding advertisements for our race. Both horses are being pointed for a fourth appearance in 2021, and we are beyond thrilled that they will now will be able to run in the Calumet Farm as a Grade 2 stakes.”
The American Graded Stakes Committee met earlier this week to crunch the data and today announced next year’s graded-stakes classifications. The committee reviewed 849 U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000. There will be 445 graded stakes overall for 2021, three fewer than 2020.
The Calumet Farm was Kentucky Downs’ only graded stakes for 15 years, starting in 2002. Mirroring the ascent of the track into a major player nationally, Kentucky Downs has picked up at least one graded stakes in four of the past five years.
The Franklin-Simpson was run as a graded stakes for the first time in 2019. The $500,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint became a Grade 3 for 2018, with the $700,000 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint and $500,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf earning that designation for 2017.
Even amid COVID-19 restrictions, Kentucky Downs is coming off another record-shattering meet, with a record $59,828,441 wagered on the six-date meet in September. A record $11,668,473 was paid in purses and Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements to horsemen.