FRANKLIN, KY – With the addition of a sixth day of racing, Kentucky Downs’ 2020 live meet in September will offer about $12 million in purses, including 16 stakes. Non-stakes purses were reduced in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown but remain the highest in North America.
The elite all-turf RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs runs September 7, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 16. The stakes, including five with Grade 3 status, total $8.6 million, of which $3.775 million comes from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund (KTDF) for horses born in and sired by stallions in the state.
The free nominations for all 16 stakes close on Wednesday, August 26.
Kentucky Downs’ signature card on Saturday, September 12, will showcase four graded stakes and five overall, headlined by the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) and the $700,000 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint (G3). The 6-furlong RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint for the second year is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), to be held November 7 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. Challenge Series winners receive an automatic berth in the corresponding Breeders’ Cup race and have their entry fees waived.
The Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup serves as the Midwest’s marquee 1 1/2-mile prep for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Last year’s 1-2 Kentucky Turf Cup finishers were Zulu Alpha and the 2018 victor Arklow. Both horses subsequently won Grade 1 stakes, with Michael Hui’s Zulu Alpha taking Gulfstream Park’s $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf and Donegal Racing’s Arklow capturing Belmont Park’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
New to the stakes schedule are the $400,000 Music City for 3-year-old fillies and the $400,000 Untapable Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, both to be run at 6 1/2 furlongs. The Music City’s name celebrates Kentucky Downs’ close proximity to Nashville, Tennessee, and its famed country music venues. The Untapable is named for Kentucky Downs co-owner Ron Winchell’s 3-year-old filly champion of 2014 who won the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
Kentucky Downs gave $150,000 purse increases to a pair of existing 3-year-old stakes in the track’s ongoing effort to get all its eligible stakes graded. Graded stakes are those designated as being among the best in America. The Gun Runner Dueling Grounds Derby now matches the Tourist Mile as the second-richest stakes of the meet, both offering a $750,000 pot, while the Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks is $500,000. Both stakes are 1 5/16 miles.
“The Kentucky Downs stakes program is one of the most lucrative in the country,” said seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the 2018 Dueling Grounds Derby with Channel Cat and the 2019 running with Social Paranoia. “We look forward to trying for the Dueling Grounds Derby three-peat.”
Kentucky Downs also has released its condition book, which spells out the races to be offered during the meet. The estimated $12 million projected to be paid out to horse owners over six days is slightly up from the more than $11.5 million paid out over five dates last year. Maiden races for Kentucky-bred horses in 2020 will be worth $90,000, first-level allowance races $95,000 and second-level allowance races $100,000.
“We’re very pleased with what we’re able to offer in 2020 in these challenging times,”said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager. “Our two new stakes fill a previous void for female sprinters and now we have something for everyone in the turf division. Our non-stakes purses have been dialed back a bit but remain among the most lucrative in the world.”
The September 16 closing-day card will include four starter-allowance races carrying $100,000 purses that will serve as automatic qualifying races for the Claiming Crown at Gulfstream Park. The Claiming Crown, generally held in early December, was created as a Breeders’ Cup-type event for claimers, the blue-collar workhorses of American racing.
“We’re already a one-of-a-kind meet, but add on top of that we this year start two days after the rescheduled Kentucky Derby (G1) just up the road,” Nicholson said. “This should provide a ready opportunity for horsemen who haven’t had the chance before to come join us and see why we call it America’s most unique race meet, in addition to being the richest.”