With the addition of a sixth day of racing, the Kentucky Downs meet in September will offer about $12 million in purses, including 16 stakes —surpassing its stakes schedule from last year when it ran 14 stakes worth approximately $7.4 million in eligible purse money.
Non-stakes purses will be reduced in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown but remain the highest in North America, the track said in a release.
The all-turf Runhappy meet at Kentucky Downs runs Sept. 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 16. The stakes include five Grade 3s worth a total $8.6 million, of which $3.775 million comes from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund for horses bred in the state.
Kentucky Downs’ signature card Sept. 12 will showcase four graded stakes and five overall, headlined by the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup and the $700,000 Runhappy Turf Sprint Stakes. The six-furlong Runhappy Turf Sprint for the second year is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, providing the winner an automatic paid berth into the race at Keeneland Nov. 7.
The 1 1/2-mile Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup serves as a steppingstone toward the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. Last year’s top two Kentucky Turf Cup finishers were Zulu Alpha and 2018 victor Arklow, both of whom ran in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita Park, finishing fourth and eighth, respectively.
Following last year’s Kentucky Turf Cup, both horses won Grade 1s, with Zulu Alpha taking Gulfstream Park’s $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes Presented by Runhappy and Arklow capturing Belmont Park’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes.
New additions to the stakes schedule are the $400,000 Music City Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and the $400,000 Untapable Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, both at 6 1/2 furlongs. The Music City’s name celebrates Kentucky Downs’ close proximity to Nashville, Tenn., 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 Longines Kentucky Oaks and Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Kentucky Downs gave $150,000 purse increases to a pair of existing 3-year-old stakes in the track’s ongoing effort to have more of its races assigned graded status.
The Gun Runner Dueling Grounds Derby now matches the Tourist Mile Stakes as the second-richest stakes of the meet, both offering a $750,000 purse, 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. Last year those same races were $40,000-$50,000 higher.
Purses in Kentucky are lower this year because of the onset of COVID-19 and subsequent loss of on-track wagering due to a ban on spectators. Also historical horse racing gaming facilities were closed for almost three months. Revenue from the slot-like HHR devices supplement purses in the state, and those gaming facilities in Kentucky only reopened this week with limited capacity.
“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 Sept. 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, held during the winter at Gulfsteam Park.
“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 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.”
Kentucky Downs reopened for HRR gaming June 10 with social distancing and safety protocols following a 12-week COVID-19 shutdown. Simulcast wagering resumes there June 11.