Already offering the only European-style race course in America and some of the largest purses in the world, Kentucky Downs now becomes the first track in the United States to offer five $1 million races on one card outside the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
Entries were taken Monday for Saturday’s showcase card, which will be American horse racing’s focus with Saratoga’s elite meet ending Labor Day. For the first time, Kentucky Downs will have six graded stakes on a single card, and five have the capacity to reach seven digits in purse money.
“We are incredibly excited to be able to offer five $1 million races, “ said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ Vice President for Racing. “For a non-Breeders’ Cup card, this is truly amazing.”
First Post on 12-Race Card is 11:30am
First post for the 12-race card is 11:30 a.m. Central. Reserved seating is sold out but there is free general admission at the top of the stretch and tailgating on the far turn.
“Phenomenal. I love this place,” said trainer Wesley Ward, who has horses in three stakes races. “Where else would you want to be?”
True, the purses include up to $450,000 in Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements that goes only to registered Kentucky-breds. But those make up the majority of the horses racing. And the $550,000 base pot for which every horse competes remains among the most lucrative in the country.
“More reason to be here,” said Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time win leader who is off to a great start working on a record seventh trainer’s title here. “It’s remarkable and a credit to the way things have been going here.”
Three of the races had $1 million purses going in: the Grade 2 Kentucky Turf Cup; the Grade 2 FanDuel Turf Sprint and the Grade 3 WinStar Farm Mint Million. The Turf Cup and Turf Sprint were already scheduled for Saturday, with the Mint Million rescheduled to that date after inclement weather canceled racing this past Saturday after seven races.
The $750,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3) and $600,000 The Mint Ladies Sprint (G3) had their purses bumped to $1 million because of incentives the track instituted if a Grade 1 winner runs in the race. That happened because G1 Beverly D. winner Dalika and Lady Speightspeare (winner of a Grade 1 at age 2) are running in the Ladies Turf, with the Ward-trained two-time European Group 1 winner Campanelle in the Ladies Sprint.
The sixth graded stakes on the card is the $600,000 Franklin-Simpson (G2) for 3-year-old sprinters.
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Other than the industry-funded Breeders’ Cup series, which moves around to different tracks, only Belmont Park on its Belmont Stakes card from 2014-2016 has had as many as four $1 million races in a single day, according to Equibase, the industry record-keeper.
New York-based trainer Christophe Clement brings in a formidable hand, with two-time Grade 1 Sword Dancer winner Gufo in the Kentucky Turf Cup and Big Invasion riding a six-race win streak into the Franklin-Simpson. Clement also has Kentucky Downs’ 2020 Juvenile Fillies winner Plum Ali in the Ladies Turf. Joel Rosario rides all three horses for Clement.
“Very nice horse,” Rosario said of Big Invasion. “He’s been running really well. Every time he runs, he gets better.”
A total of 176 horses are on the program for Saturday’s card, including 36 also-eligibles that need scratches in order to run. Four stakes drew more than the capacity 12 that can run, with the Mint Million and Ladies Turf attracting 10 apiece. The final five stakes — Ladies Turf, FanDuel Turf Sprint, Kentucky Turf Cup, Ladies Sprint and Franklin-Simpson comprise an all-graded stakes Pick 5. There also is a final Pick 4 on races 9-12. Both bets are 50-cents with a low takeout of 14 percent.
NBC Sports will broadcast the Kentucky Turf Cup and FanDuel Turf Sprint live on CNBC. Here’s a look at the stakes:
$1 million, G3 The Mint Million (3-year-olds & up, mile on turf)
Last year’s winner, Pixelate, is back. The extra week attracted two additional runners from the barn of Kentucky Downs’ all-time leading trainer Mike Maker, who is sending out millionaires Somelikeithotbrown and Field Pass. Maker now has three runners in the Mint Million, along with Atoned.
Somelikeithotbrown, last year’s Mint Million runner-up, will run back 15 days after the 6-year-old horse won Saratoga’s $200,000 West Point for New York-breds by six lengths. Field Pass, who wasn’t originally nominated to the Mint Million, finished eighth in the Aug. 13 Arlington Million at Churchill Downs a month after he won the Texas Turf Mile upon the disqualification of another stablemate for interference.
Other contenders include: Mr Dumas, Kentucky Ghost and Gray’s Fable.
$1 million, G2 Kentucky Turf Cup (3-year-olds & up, 1 1/2 miles on turf)
The Brad Cox-trained 8-year-old Arklow will attempt to become the first three-time winner of the stakes and only the second horse to win three stakes of any kind at Kentucky Downs (following Snapper Sinclair last year). Arklow won the stakes in 2018 and 2020 and was second in 2019 and last year, when he lost by a neck after being bottled up in traffic.
But this year he must contend with Gufo, a nine-time winner and triple Grade 1 winner after taking Saratoga’s Aug. 27 Sword Dancer for the second straight year.
“I mean, he’s a strong horse,” said Rosario, who last year set a track record for most wins at a meet at 17. “He looks like he loves those big, long races. We’ll see how he handles the track. We don’t know until we go and see.”
California invader Breakpoint went 5-for-5 in his native Chile but was 0 for 4 in the United States — including seventh in last year’s Kentucky Turf Cup — until winning Santa Anita’s Grade 3 San Juan Capistrano at 1 3/4 miles on June 19, his last start. He’s trained by Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale.
Maker has four horses in the race, which he has won a record four times: Colonial Cup winner Red Knight, Temple, Keystone Field and Glynn County.
Others include graded-stakes winner Another Mystery and Admission Office.
$1 million, G2 FanDuel Turf Sprint (3-year-olds & up, 6 furlongs on turf)
The Ward-trained multiple graded-stakes winner Arrest Me Red is 6 for 10 for his career, most recently narrowly losing the Grade 1 Jaipur Stakes after winning Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Twin Spires Turf Sprint.
Totally Boss won the Turf Sprint in 2019 and was seventh in 2020. This will be his third start since coming back after an almost year’s retirement. Other graded-stakes winners include Bran, Chewing Gum, Arzak, Bob’s Edge and Gregorian Chant. Front Run the Fed could move up on soft turf, as when he dead-heated for second in 2020.
$1 million, G3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (fillies & mares 3 years old & up, mile on turf)
Princess Grace and Dalika, last year’s 1-2 finishers in the Ladies Turf, are back – one race after Dalika edged Princess Grace by a half-length in the Beverly D. Besides Lady Speightspeare and Plum Ali, others include graded stakes-winner Stolen Holiday, last year’s Virginia Oaks winner Flippant, Ellis Park stakes-winners Market Rumor and Henrietta Topham, and last year’s One Dreamer winner Hendy Woods.
$1 million, G3 The Mint Ladies Sprint (fillies & mares 3 years old & up, 6 1/2 furlongs on turf)
Last year’s winner In Good Spirits returns but faces Campanelle, winner of Group 1 races in England and France. Others: graded-stakes winners Brooke Marie and Jouster; Toby’s Heart, winner of last year’s $500,000 Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey Music City; multiple stakes-winner She Can’t Sing, and former claimer Creative Credit, whose four-race win streak includes Ellis Park’s Laguna Distaff Turf Sprint.
$600,000 Franklin-Simpson, G2 (3-year-olds, 6 1/2 furlongs on turf)
While Big Invasion should be a big favorite, this race is deep. Stitched if 5 for 6 since trainer Greg Foley put him on turf, including stakes victories in Indiana and Minnesota. All In Sync in his turf debut beat older horses in Ellis Park’s Turf Sprint. Call Me Midnight, a graded-stakes winner on dirt, was a close fifth in that race while enduring an extremely difficult trip. Graded-stakes winners on turf include Asymmetric and Coinage.