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Kentucky Downs 2015 Racing Season


Article & photos by Grace Clark 

On a sun-drenched September Saturday in southern Kentucky, Thoroughbred horse racing returned to Kentucky Downs. Located in Franklin, Kentucky, just across the Kentucky-Tennessee border, the track is heralded for its low takeout rates on wagering, large field size, quality of competition, and European-Style turf course. For five days in September, the meet awarded over $1.5 million dollars each day in purses, and featured 12 stakes races. The September meet at the Franklin, Kentucky track juxtaposed world class turf racing with a fair-like atmosphere, with Hall of Fame trainers standing next to local fans watching the races from lawn chairs.

Opening Day, September 5, kicked off the meet with a ten-race card featuring three stakes races. The fourth running of the $300,000 Encore Juvenile Fillies Stakes for two year old fillies at seven furlongs was the first stakes race of the meet.  Ruthless Quality, a daughter of Elusive Quality was guided to victory by jockey Florent Geroux in a time of 1:24.90 for trainer Eoin Harty and owner Godolphin Racing LLC. “It was very exciting to win especially as there was a very large purse at stake,” said trainer Eoin Harty of Ruthless Quality’s win. “Kentucky Downs is a short but very competitive race meet and if your horses give a good account of themselves, then it bodes well for the future. I enjoy the atmosphere and the people at Kentucky Downs and always look forward to the meet.”

The juvenile showcase continued with the fourth running of the $300,000 Calumet Farm Juvenile for two year olds at seven furlongs. Cajun Schill, off at odds of 9/2 for trainer William Kaplan and owners David and Teresa Palmer, broke slowly and was outrun early, before making an eye catching five-wide move coming into the stretch, and drawing off to win by 1 ¾ lengths under jockey Florent Geroux.

With a returning champion in Regally Ready, a Royal Ascot victor in Undrafted, and six of the seven horses entered either  a stakes winner or stakes placer, the $300,000 More Than Ready Mile, presented by WinStar Farm, was shaping up to be one of the more interesting races on the card. Yet, it was not the returning champion, or Royal Ascot hero’s day. Tourist, the 2-1 second choice was sent to the lead early by jockey Florent Geroux, and never looked back.

After weather and track conditions called for the races to be cancelled on Thursday, September 10 and Saturday, September 12, the races were moved to Monday, September 14. Though held on an unconventional race day, the second full day of the meet was highly successful. Included on its ten-race card were the $300,000 Dueling Grounds Derby, $300,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint, $300,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Dash, and $300,000 G3 Kentucky Turf Cup. Favorite Closing Bell took the Dueling Grounds Derby for owner WinStar Farm and trainer Bill Mott, stalking the pace for a majority of the 1 5/16 mile race before taking the lead under jockey Jose Lezcano.

The Treasure fillies – Sky  Treasure and Seeking Treasure – brought  a thriller to the Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint, with Sky Treasure prevailing by a nose under jockey Julien Leparoux in the 6 ½  furlong race. Another stakes race came down to the wire when Sweet Luca narrowly defeated Holy Lute by a neck under jockey Robby Albarado in the Kentucky Downs Turf Dash.  

The highlight race of the meet is the G3 Kentucky Turf Cup, run at 1 ½ miles on the undulating turf course of Kentucky Downs. Da Big Hoss, ridden by Joseph Rocco Jr., was held back early, but made an eye catching move coming into the stretch to take the victory for trainer Mike Maker and owner SkyChai Racing LLC.

The newest addition to Kentucky Downs is a retirement facility for racehorses off the track, a satellite location of Old Friends Farm (see September issue of the Mid-South Horse Review). Wednesday September 16 was the track’s Old Friends Day, and included races named after Old Friends retirees, plus tours of the facility with founder Michael Blowen. The inaugural Old Friends Stakes provided something other than a title or a purse for the winner. The victor of the race would have a guaranteed retirement at Old Friends Farm, a luxury that shows the dedication of Kentucky Downs to the sport’s retired athletes. The 50-1 long shot Kalamos stunned the field, leaving them all two lengths behind as he won for owner/trainer Edward Boerjan, and jockey Abel Lezcano.
With a thirteen-race card that featured four stakes, Closing Day, September 19 proved to be one for the record books, literally. The stakes action kicked off halfway through the card in race six, with the inaugural running of the $150,000 One Dreamer Stakes. Rusty Slipper stalked the pace early before surging in deep stretch to win the mile and 70 yards race in 1:41.70, setting a new track record. She is trained by Graham Motion for owner Zanim Meahjohn, and was ridden to victory by James Graham. Kiss Moon, a David Vance trainee running for owner Carl Pollard, won the $300,000 Fasig-Tipton Ladies Turf by a neck under jockey Corey Lanerie. Fasig-Tipton also sponsored the tenth race, the $300,000 Fasig-Tipton Ladies Marathon. European import Modernstone stalked the pace until the stretch, before swinging out and making a bold move to win under jockey Rafael Hernandez. The mare covered the 1 5/16 miles in a steady 2:13.12 for trainer Kelly Rubley, and owners Wachtel Stable, Brous Stable, and Gary Barber. The final stakes race of the meet, the inaugural running of the Dueling Grounds Oaks, featured a full field of three year old fillies vying for the $200,000 purse. Return to Grace, owned by Franklin native Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm and trained by Mark Casse, was held off the pace early before surging to the front at the head of the stretch to win by 1 ½ lengths.

The 2015 September Live Racing meet at Kentucky Downs surpassed the expectations of everyone involved with the track, including Live Racing Manager C.J. Johnsen. “This meet showcased some of the best turf racing in the country. I was especially impressed with the contingent of two-year-olds that ran here. The maiden, allowance level, and stakes races for that age were some of the most competitive of the meet,” said Johnsen.  Betting handles for the meet rose over 6% to $16,887,188, despite running two fewer races than scheduled, and having a Monday race card. The leading owner title for the meet went to Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who had two winners on Saturday’s card. Mike Maker finished the meet as leading trainer, and French jockey Florent Geroux, winner of 12 races during the meet, was named the leading jockey. 

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