Is Horse Racing Dead? Not at Little ‘Ole Kentucky Downs

Kentucky Downs enjoys another record-breaking meet with total betting at over $59M on 62 races

By Jennie Rees and Dick Downey
Kentucky Downs 2020 Recap

Even before Saffie Joseph won Wednesday’s eighth race with Sugar Fix on closing day of the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs, the trainer’s thoughts had turned to next year.

“First meet here. I love it,” said Joseph, one of America’s fast-rising trainers who this summer expanded his East Coast base to include Kentucky. “It’s a cool setting, different from what you’re used to seeing in America. It’s kind of like a European track. I’m coming back every year. As long as we have the owners providing the horses, we hope to make this an important part of our year.”

Fergus Galvin, a representative for Qatar Racing’s Sheikh Fahad al Thani, said that Guildsman’s victory in the Grade 3 Franklin-Simpson Stakes on the closing card “certainly made Sheikh Fahad a big fan of Kentucky Downs. He’s already wanting to stock up the stable to point to the meeting next year.”

Kentucky Downs smashed its betting records at the six-date meet with total wagering of $59,828,444 on 62 races, including $9,487,705 on Wednesday’s 10-race finale. The previous record was last year’s $41,239,699 for 50 races over five days….

Kentucky Downs purses since 2011
Year (dates) purses

2020 (6) $12,337,000
2019 (5) $11,520,380
2018 (5) $10,273,630
2017 (5) $8,625,396
2016 (5) $7,923,476
2015 (5) $6,609,355
2014 (5) $4,875,722
2013 (5) $4,150,687
2012 (5) $2,086,650
2011 (4) $796,810

Phenomenal Purses Scheduled for Churchill Downs’ 145th Spring Meet

$5,000 claimers running for $29,000.   Bottom allowance runners going for a $103,000 purse.  That’s the type of purses set for Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby week 2019.   Is horse racing dead?  Not in Kentucky.

Per the Churchill Downs’ press release:

Record prize money for horsemen will be distributed at Churchill Downs’ 145th Spring Meet thanks to early returns from state-of-the-art historical racing machines at Derby City Gaming.

The first condition book, which covers the first half of the 38-day Spring Meet, was released Wednesday, and purses for the 189 offered races total $20.1 million – an unprecedented 46% increase from last spring’s $13.7 million. The daily average is $1,056,842 compared to $722,579 in 2018, or $106,243 per race versus $72,640. All purses include prize money from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.

Purses for all six days of racing on Derby Week (April 27-May 4) have been supercharged. In years past, only the purses on Oaks and Derby days were boosted. Maiden special weight races will be $100,000. Allowance races will range from $103,000 to $110,000. Total purses on Oaks Day will exceed $3.6 million, and Derby Day prize money will be worth a record $6.9 million.

After Derby Week, maiden special weight races will be worth $85,000 (up from $53,000 in 2018), and allowance races will range from $87,000 to $94,000 (up from $55,000 to $61,000 in 2018). The daily prize money post-Derby Week will average $525,308 compared to $356,769 in 2018, or $55,975 per race versus $38,016 a year ago.

In a change from last year, the winner’s share of the purse in all overnight races will be 56% (previously 60%) and 1.5% of the purse will be distributed to the sixth- through last-place finishers (previously 0.5%) to incentivize starts and reward owners who run their horses.

More than $30 million in total prize money – $12 million in stakes races and another $18 million in overnight races – is expected to be offered during this year’s Spring Meet. Last year, total purses paid during the 372-race Spring Meet was $22.2 million.

“This is such an exciting time to be a part of Kentucky racing,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “Our investment into Derby City Gaming, which opened just five months ago, continues to pay immediate dividends to Kentucky horsemen. We have reinforced our Derby Week festival concept, solidified our lucrative stakes program and tremendously strengthened our overnight racing product.We truly believe this growth and methodology will benefit all owners, trainers and jockeys that participate at Churchill Downs and make for an extremely exciting and competitive meet.”

With 75 total racing dates in 2019, Churchill Downs will offer more racing opportunities for horsemen than any other racetrack in Kentucky and increase its purses with more than an additional $10 million as a result of handle generated by Derby City Gaming’s initial year of operation. The $65 million facility opened in mid-September at nearby 4520 Poplar Level Road.

Earlier this year, Churchill Downs announced a record 34-race, $12.2 million Spring Meet stakes schedule that included a $1 million boost to the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) on Saturday, May 4, making it worth a guaranteed $3 million. Also among the 15 stakes races that received significant increases were the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), which was raised to $1.25 million, and the Old Forester Turf Classic (GI), which was doubled to $1 million.

Stall applications for the highly-anticipated Spring Meet, which will begin Saturday, April 27 and continue through Saturday, June 29, are due Friday, March 8. The stable area will reopen Tuesday, March 19 and the first scheduled day of training is Friday, March 22.

View the condition book online: https://www.churchilldowns.com/horsemen/racing/condition-book/.