KENTUCKY DOWNS ENJOYS ANOTHER “BIG” YEAR
As we prepare to close the books on 2018, it is only fitting we shine a little light on the spectacular things that happened at that “country” race track that sits just across the state line.
When traveling up I-65 north headed for the Bluegrass state, the rolling hills and pastures of the countryside are all around. Then just as you are hammering down past the last weigh station in Tennessee… Bam! There it is… the hottest horse track within earshot of Nashville.
A revamped Kentucky Downs increased its presence on the sporting world’s map during the past 12 months. It began with a newly remodeled area that features over 750 historical horse racing gaming machines and a Vegas-style feel. Live music, a bar area loaded with craft beers, and the Lucky 7’s restaurant provides a multitude of entertainment opportunities. All that means big revenue and more payout for the ponies. The five racing dates this past September featured $10 million in purses. That means this European-style turf track sports the highest per-race purses in the nation and second highest in the world!
Those big purses meant some of the hierarchy of the horse world descended upon Franklin, Kentucky at the beginning of the ninth month of 2018. Top jockeys, owners, and trainers from all across the country circled early September on their calendars with hopes of a “season-making” run over the odd-shaped, undulating grass track. Del Mar champion trainer Peter Miller summed it up best when asked why he was shipping from California for the Kentucky Turf Cup. “I can give you 750,000 good reasons why we came to Franklin, Kentucky,” quipped the quick-witted conditioner as he made reference to the prize money.
An increase in the quality of participants has also translated into better competition and more money wagered. A record handle of over $36 million was wagered during the five-day meet in 2018, which was up by over $6 million from the previous record setting year. More Kentucky Downs “graduates” are making their marks throughout the country and this little “country” track has quickly become the place to be around Labor Day. Runners trained by all-stars like Miller, Todd Pletcher, Mark Casse, Mike Maker, Richard Baltas, and Dale Romans just to name a few were found on every race day at these Downs.
Congratulations are in order for the folks at Kentucky Downs for a fantastic 2018. That has been the good news, but the better news is 2019 promises to be even bigger. Another graded stakes race (5th overall) has been added to the five racing dates (August 31, September 5,7,8,12) and the purse money will remain at the highest levels. Continued improvements for the track are in the works and new owners Ron Winchell and Marc Falcone are committed to continuing the recent climb. The previous ownership group headed by Corey Johnsen has done an outstanding job of making Kentucky Downs relevant in the racing world. Winchell’s name has been synonymous with success in the game as his horse Tapit has been one of the top sires in the breeding industry. Also the recent campaign of Gun Runner saw that Winchell owned runner garner Horse of the Year honors in 2017 as he turned in a magnificent season.
With all that in mind, keep an eye on that little “country” track just north of Nashville. If we thought 2018 was great, let’s see how 2019 unfolds.