The matchless nature of Kentucky Downs beckoned my husband and me. Visiting was on our racing bucket list. The five-day season is held in September on the only European-style racetrack (an asymmetrical all-grass course) in the U.S., and the short meet is filled with 13 stakes races, high purses, full fields, low betting takeout, and some of the biggest names in racing. We chose to attend Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes day, a card with four stakes races.
While planning our visit, I was perplexed by the lack of ticket information until I learned that admission is free and a few tented hospitality areas comprise the reserved seating. One tent is called Finish Line, and it features decorated tables and a buffet. Many racing fans brought lawn chairs and sat along the rail. Families of jockeys and trainers lounged under tailgating tents while their toddlers played in the Kentucky bluegrass. The atmosphere was laid-back, friendly, and festive.
We enjoyed the undercard, and then the seventh race, the $350,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf Stakes, started the stakes action. Miss Temple City, a three-time Grade 1 winner that has also competed at Royal Ascot twice, was the 4-5 favorite. With Edgar Prado up, she beat Zipessa in a hotly contested race by a neck. She will most likely make her next start at Keeneland and then is probable for the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
The purse was again $350,000 for the eighth race, the Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint Stakes. In this challenge, Lull and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., who won the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies last year, won their second stakes together. Between these races, Lull ran second in the Grade 3 Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland and fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She most recently ran second in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap at Del Mar.
In the Grade 3, $400,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint Stakes, Hogy ran in his first start after being claimed at Saratoga. The 8-year-old gelding fended off rivals Commend and Undrafted by half a length. Gaining his second graded stakes win, he bolstered his in-the-money record to 34 out of 45 starts.
The stakes action culminated in the final race of the card, the Grade 3, $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes. Trainer Michael Maker sought his third consecutive win in this one-and-a-half-mile race, and Oscar Nominated, one of his four entries, delivered by a head for owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. The Ramseys, who sponsor the Ramsey Farm Stakes that will be run on the final day of the meet, are the track’s all-time leading owner, and Maker is the all-time leading trainer.
Kentucky Downs is a unique experience in American racing. Casey and I enjoyed Kentucky Turf Cup day, and obviously we were not the only people who did: A common refrain throughout the day was “I wish they raced more days,” and a record $8.5 million was bet on the card from all sources, $2.7 million more than the previous record set on this day last year.