The RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., concluded its five-date meet on Sept. 12, once again breaking wagering records, with betting from all sources totaling $41,239,699.
That's a 13.2-percent increase over the $36,421,721 wagered in 2018. Kentucky Downs set a record for each of the meet's corresponding dates, including the $7,280,542 bet on Thursday's finale.
Though the final number has to be audited, purses unofficially totaled $11,565,684, up 13 percent over last year's record purses and Kentucky-bred supplements of $10,233,665 paid out at that meet. That computes to an unofficial average purse of $231,313 for the 50 races, and doesn't include the $5 million in purses and Kentucky-bred supplements generated at Kentucky Downs and transferred to Ellis Park through an agreement with the Kentucky HBPA, which represents horse owners and trainers at both tracks.
Field size averaged a record 11.26 horses per race, with a capacity of 12 horses starting in a race.
The 2019 race meet was the first under the new ownership headed by prominent horseman and entrepreneur Ron Winchell and veteran gaming executive and financial analyst Marc Falcone.
“I think it's been great,” Winchell said. “Obviously we like to beat expectations; I think we've done that and we want to continue that. That's our goal: build on it, make it better, make it better next year.”
Kentucky Downs staged its first $1 million race, with Michael Hui's Zulu Alpha giving trainer Mike Maker his fourth victory in the Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup in the past five years. The track also was host to its first Breeders' Cup Challenge Series “Win and You're In” race, the $700,000 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint. Jim and Susan Hill's Totally Boss captured that Grade 3 stakes to earn an entry fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. Totally Boss also provided trainer Rusty Arnold his first of two stakes on the showcase Sept. 7 card, with G. Watts Humphrey's Morticia taking the $500,000 Grade 3 Spendthrift Farm Ladies Sprint.
“We said before the meet that our goal is to keep improving on the successful formula of quality turf racing, full fields and low takeout,” said Ted Nicholson, who completed his fourth live meet as Kentucky Downs' senior vice president and general manager. “We accomplished that. But now our new challenge becomes additional improvement on another record-setting meet and finding ways to further enhance the experience for our on-track guests and those betting our races from throughout the country.
“The video product continues to be a work in progress, given the challenges of our unique course, but we made tremendous strides under the leadership of David Loignon. Michael Wrona added a lot of flair and pizzazz to our race calls. We expanded our popular Finish Line Pavilion from 300 to almost 500 to accommodate increased demand, and we only expect that to grow. More and more jockeys from both coasts are making Kentucky Downs part of their circuit, and we were delighted to have Hall of Famer Javier Castellano join us for the first time on closing day. This meet will barely be in the books before we'll be turning our attention to 2020.”
Those attending the 2020 race meet can expect significant physical changes to the facility.
“We should start construction probably the end of October, November, add on to the existing big building, remodel it as we go, and try to make it bigger and better going forward,” Winchell said.
As far as the outdoor areas that are a mainstay of the live race meet, he said the VIP Tent used over the weekend would be back as a more permanent structure. “Try to make it bigger and better pretty much all the way around, whether it's the main building, the racing, everything.”
East Coast-based Jose Ortiz won his second straight Kentucky Downs riding title, with 10 wins out of 33 mounts, including two Thursday. Two-time Kentucky Downs meet titlist Julien Leparoux also won two to finish second in the standings with seven victories out of 38 mounts.
Ortiz won a meet-leading $2,053,366 in purses in spite of missing opening day to ride closing weekend at Saratoga. Four of his victories came in stakes: the $1 million, Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (Zulu Alpha), $600,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby (Social Paranoia), $500,000, Grade 3 Three Chimneys Ladies Turf (Ms Bad Behavior) and the $350,000 Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks (Princesa Carolina).
“I had a lot of good opportunities, and the horses showed up,” Ortiz said. “I tried my best, tried to be in the position to win, and I'm very happy to win it two years in a row now. Last year I got pretty used to the track. I felt I had a good connection. I think this year I just kept it up; I gained another year's experience over it. Just being more patient. I think that helped me a lot.
“I came here to win. My agent (Jimmy Riccio) does a great job finding a lot of good mounts; they're live. I had a lot of great mounts here, rode the card most of the day. I mean, the more opportunities you get, the more chances you have to win.”
Wesley Ward, Joe Sharp and Ian Wilkes tied for the top of the trainer standings with four wins each, ending all-time win-leader Mike Maker's run of four straight titles. It was Ward's fourth title, having won outright in 2014, 2010 and 2008. Wilkes won the 2011 crown, while Sharp earned his first at Kentucky Downs.
Ward also won the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint with a filly for the second time in its two years of existence, this time with Stonestreet Stables' Cambria.
Three owners finished with a meet-leading two wins: Susan and Jim Hill, Brad Grady and Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Stables.
Bloom Racing ran its career record at Kentucky Downs to 5 for 5 with two victories, including Snapper Sinclair taking the $750,000 Tourist Mile for his second stakes at the track after winning a 2-year-old stakes two years ago. The unbeaten streak was snapped Thursday when My Sweet Baboo finished fourth.
Betting on Kentucky Downs in 2019
Day 1 (Sat. 8/31) $8,464,103
Day 2 (Thurs. 9/5) $6,609,217
Day 3 (Sat. 9/7) $11,321,492
Day 4 (Sun. 9/8) $7,564,345
Day 5 (Thurs. 9/12) $7,280,542
2019 TOTAL: $41,239,699
Betting on Kentucky Downs in 2018
Day 1: (Sat. 9/1) $6,205,873
Day 2: (Thurs. 9/6 $5,825,797
Day 3: (Sat. 9/8) $10,039,008
Day 4: (Wed. 9/12) $7,329,490
Day 5: (Thurs. 9/13) $7,021,553
2018 TOTAL: $36,421,721
Note: 2011 is the last year that purses weren't enhanced by Historical Horse Racing.
Betting on Kentucky Downs since 2011
Year (days) total wagering
2019 (5) $41,239,699
2018 (5) $36,421,722
2017 (5) $30,246,888
2016 (5) $22,540,764
2015 (5) $16,887,134
2014 (5) $15,880,755
2013 (5) $12,814,891
2012 (5) $7,570,731
2011 (4) $3,596,354
Average field sizes since 2011
2019: 11.26 (563 starters in 50 races, a record)
Purses since 2011
Year (days) total purses races avg per race
2019 (5) $11,565,684* 50 $231,313
2018 (5) $10,273,630 50 $205,472
2017 (5) $8,625,396 50 $172,508
2016 (5) $7,923,476 50 $158,470
2015 (5) $6,609,355 48 $137,694
2014 (5) $4,875,772 50 $97,515
2013 (5) $4,150,687 50 $83,013
2012 (5) $2,086,650 43 $48,526
2011 (4) $769,810 30 $25,660
Leading jockeys by wins @KYDownsRacing 2019
Jose Ortiz 10
Julien Leparoux 7
Adam Beschizza 5
Florent Geroux 5
Tyler Gaffalione 5
James Graham 3
Brian Hernandez 3
On day 5, Ortiz, Leparoux and Javier Castellano each won two races.
Leaders by earnings
Leading trainers by wins
Joe Sharp 4
Wesley Ward 4
Ian Wilkes 4
Steve Asmussen 3
Eddie Kenneally 3
Mike Maker 3
Rusty Arnold 2
Mark Casse 2
Brad Cox 2
Kenneally had two wins on day 5. Maker had 14 second-place finishes and six third-place finishes.
Maker won the earnings title with $1,435,771, Kenneally second with $791,094, Asmussen third with $775,980, Wilkes fourth with $720,240, Cox fifth with $694,790 and Casse sixth with $666,558.
Total winning favorites were 17 from 50 races, or 34 percent
Where the winners last raced:
Ellis Park 11
Arlington Park 5
Debut winners 4
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