What a difference a year makes.
As Kentucky Downs' 2012 racing season began Saturday, the handle soared, stakes horses raced for lucrative purses and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan celebrated a significant victory in the winner's circle.
On Kentucky Downs' opening day last year, fans on-track bet $84,753 on the races. On Saturday, patrons bet $124,739, a 47-percent increase. Last year, total handle on Kentucky Downs' races got about as high as a flushed quail at $776,898. On opening day 2012, total handle soared to $1,363,682, a 75.5-percent increase.
And last year on opening day, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan hit the ground hard after his mount in the Kentucky Turf Cup, Formaggio, clipped heels. The spill in the second turn left the jockey bruised and scraped and missing more than a few teeth. Saturday, however, Bridgmohan and Miz Ida came down the stretch like marauders to win the $75,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, one of three stakes on the opening day card.
Depeche Chat, owned by Wind River Stables, won the $75,000 Franklin-Simpson Stakes. And Good Lord, who had set track records in each of his last two outings, while winning stakes at Ellis Park and Charles Town, won the $75,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Dash for his owners, Doug Shank and Stan Young of Bowling Green, Ky.
“It was a terrific day of racing,” said Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen. “We're pleased that we're now in a position to put on races like these, with attractive purses for the horsemen and exciting horses for the fans. Overall, it was very encouraging.”
Thanks in part to the addition and success of Instant Racing, Kentucky Downs was able to increase its purses this year by than 220 percent, to more than $2.4 million for the six days of turf racing across the only European-style turf course in North America. And the effects were evident Saturday, with a racing program that featured large fields and several accomplished stakes performers.
For Miz Ida, a 3-year-old filly taking on her elders, the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf became her third stakes victory. And it was her fourth win in five outings with Bridgmohan riding.
“She's just a wonderful filly,” the jockey said. “The only time we got beat, it was probably my fault because I had her too close to the pace (in the Edgewood Stakes at Churchill), but when you let her do what she wants, she has such a powerful punch. . . . With the long stretch here, I wasn't surprised that she beat these older horses, because she really comes running.”
An overnight rain left the turf officially “yielding,” and after an opening half-mile in 52.28 seconds, Miz Ida cruised along casually, ahead of only one in the field of 11. But she advanced boldly in the turn, and when Bridgmohan swung her to the outside in the stretch she charged home, completing the mile in 1:50.46, with Ridgester 3 ¾ lengths back in second and Affair Dabbler another 3 lengths back in third. Named after a Holocaust survivor and trained by Steve Margolis, Miz Ida earned $44,140 Saturday for her owners — Bert, Richard and Elaine Kleine of Louisville, Ky. And she swelled her career bankroll to $223,346. As the 3-1 favorite, Miz Ida returned $8.60 and completed an all-stakes Pick Three that returned $1,126.80 for a one-dollar investment.
Good Lord began the lucrative Pick Three, rallying from sixth under jockey Gabriel Saez to win the Kentucky Downs Turf Dash by 2 ¼ lengths and completing the six furlongs in 1:18.58. Despite his recent penchant for setting track records, Good Lord offered 6-1 odds, probably because he had raced only once on turf and was unproven on the surface. But his trainer, the veteran Forrest Kaelin, said he decided to take a chance on the grass because there were few other options in the region.
Icon Ike finished second, 6 ¼ lengths ahead of Will's Wildcat in third. Noble's Promise, the 2-1 favorite, led into the stretch, but faded to fourth.
And Depeche Cat, a 13-1 long shot, romped in the Franklin-Simpson Stakes. With Brian Hernandez Jr. riding, Depeche Cat closely stalked the early leader, Ratatat, and then with shocking suddenness sprinted clear in the stretch, winning by 6 ½ lengths while completing the mile over the yielding turf in 1:51.20. Depeche Cat gave trainer George “Rusty” Arnold his second winner of the day.
Racing resumes Monday at Kentucky Downs with an eight-race program. First post time is 1:35 p.m. Central time.
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