As the summer racing season winds down and horsemen begin planning their path to the Breeders’ Cup and beyond, a once forgotten venue is now on the minds of many. For five days in a two-week stretch (August 31,September5, 7, 8, 12), the focus of many of the Thoroughbred game’s best will be on a “country” track nestled just north of the Tennessee state line.

Kentucky Downs has catapulted up the charts of importance in recent times for many in the sport. The Franklin, Kentucky all-grass track has enjoyed productive growth in recent times primarily due to the historical horse racing games that have allowed massive increases in purse money. Offering the biggest per race payouts to horsemen of any track in the country, the once named Dueling Grounds has blossomed into a destination spot for some of the top players in the game. Traveling from all over the country to make a run for the money, the game’s elite enjoy a little country time on the turf.

“Kentucky Downs is a really neat place and we enjoyed our time there last year,” says Peter Miller, one of the top conditioners in California. “We had a great time there in 2018 and look forward to having a larger presence this year.”

The live meet will open the 2019 race season on August 31 with a bang up 10 race card that will feature four stakes races worth a total of $2 million. One of the opening day highlights is a pair of $500,000 races for two-year olds at a one-mile distance. The Exacta Systems for fillies and the Gainesway Farm for the boys could serve as a springboard as it has in the past. California racing staple Jeff Bloom has won the Juvenile the past two years (Snapper Sinclair 2017, Henley’s Joy 2018) and used it as a pathway to bigger stakes wins as his horses moved forward. Snapper was a presence on the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail and the Joy won this year’s million dollar Belmont Derby.

“We don’t have anyone for this year’s Juvenile,” says Bloom, who is bringing Snapper Sinclair back to Kentucky Downs this year. “We are big fans of Kentucky Downs and it has definitely become a part of our racing schedule. It’s a place we point towards. We have been lucky enough to have some great success there and look to continue that trend moving forward.”

The headliner for opening day will be the $750,000 Tourist Mile. Won last year by the Wesley Ward trained Bound for Nowhere, this year’s edition promises to be equally tough. The runner up in last year’s event, Great Wide Open is expected to enter along with Tourist Mile Preview winner Mr. Cub, 2018 Old Friends Stakes and Shadwell Mile winner Next Shares, and potentially Snapper Sinclair as well.

All in all, the 14 Stakes races during the 5 day meet has drawn 875 nominations, which is up from the 719 nominations in 2018. The nominations are not entries, but the higher numbers are an indicator of the continuing climb for Kentucky Downs. More interest should mean full fields with top-notch performers. The jockey colony will boast many of the top riders in the East with a likely invasion during the meet from Del Mar’s leading rider Flavien Prat.

First post on opening day, August 31, is set for 12:15 with free parking and general admission.