Kentucky Downs' four opening-day stakes attracted a total of 236 nominations, ranging from 53 for the $750,000 Tourist Mile to 70 for the $500,000 Gainesway Juvenile.
The RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs runs Aug. 31 and Saturday 5, 7, 8 and 12 with 10 turf races each day. First post is 12:15 p.m. Central, with free general admission and parking.
While only the opening-day nominations were released Friday and posted on Equibase.com, nominations for Kentucky Downs' 14 stakes overall totaled 875, up from 719 last year, for an average of 62 horses. The remaining stakes will be released Monday.
The $500,000 Exacta Systems for Juvenile Fillies drew 57 nominees, with some of the 2-year-old fillies also nominated for the Gainesway Farm Juvenile. The fourth stakes on Aug. 31, the $250,000 One Dreamer for fillies and mares that haven't won a stakes in 2019, attracted 56 nominations.
“While nominations aren't the same as entries, the enthusiasm with which horsemen across the country made their horses eligible for our stakes foreshadows very strong races and full fields,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs' senior vice president and general manager. “We really look forward to our 2-year-old stakes on opening day producing leading contenders for the Breeders' Cup juvenile turf races. We have all expectations that the Tourist Mile will attract horses that finally get us over the hump for graded status with that race for 2020.
“But first and foremost, our marquee races promise to live up to our hallmark of being arguably the best betting product in American horse racing with our full fields, low takeout and quality.”
At $750,000 for registered Kentucky-bred horses, the Tourist Mile offers the largest purse in the United States for older turf milers outside the $2 million TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) and Keeneland's $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile (G1). The race is named for the WinStar Farm stallion Tourist, the 2016 Breeders' Cup Mile winner who won the Kentucky Downs' stakes in 2015 when it was known as the More Than Ready.
Horses born outside Kentucky still compete for $400,000, alone making it one of the most lucrative stakes for turf milers in America.
That's good enough for Conor Murphy, trainer of 2018 Tourist Mile runner-up Great Wide Open, an Irish-bred who has been pointed for a return to the stakes all year.
“Kentucky Downs is my favorite five days of the year,” the Louisville-based Murphy said. “Unfortunately I don't have more horses to run there.”
Great Wide Open will face a rematch with the Richard Baltas-trained Next Shares, who came from California to win last year's Old Friends Stakes at Kentucky Downs and then captured Keeneland's Shadwell Turf Mile. Great Wide Open also finished second in the Shadwell. Among the other horses targeting the Tourist Mile is Mr Cub, winner of Ellis Park's $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile.
Winners of Ellis' five Kentucky Downs Preview Day stakes all earned an automatic spot, with entry fees waived, for the corresponding stakes at Kentucky Downs. All five winners are expected to run at the RUNHAPPY meet.
Kentucky-bred or not, Kentucky Downs' 2-year-old stakes offer the most money in America for juveniles racing on grass outside the $1 million Breeders' Cup races. Purses for the Gainesway Farm Juvenile and Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies total $500,000 for Kentucky-bred horses, with a base purse of $300,000.
Henley's Joy, winner of last year's Juvenile at Kentucky Downs, went on to win Belmont Park's $1 million, Grade 1 Belmont Derby on July 6 at 20-1 odds.
“When everything is said and done, we had 156 more stakes nominations this year than last year's banner meet,” said Kentucky Downs stakes coordinator Rick Albright.
Albright said interest from California horsemen has greatly increased.
“People definitely noticed the success last year of Richard Baltas coming here for the first time and winning two stakes, including Next Shares and how the Old Friends set him up to win a Grade 1 in his next start,” he said. “Also, the greatly improved racing at Ellis Park has kept more stables and more horses in Kentucky for the summer when they otherwise might have raced at Saratoga or even Del Mar. The purse money that Kentucky Downs sends to Ellis' purse account through the agreement with our horsemen has made prepping at Ellis Park a significant option. It has fostered a true racing circuit that keeps getting stronger and makes it easier for horsemen across the country to just stay in Kentucky and be all set for our races in the fall.”
Entries for the opening-day card will be taken Tuesday, Aug. 27.
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