The six-day Kentucky Downs meeting gets underway on Sunday with a pair of rich races for three-year-olds, the $500,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks and the $750,000 Dueling Grounds Derby.
After Sunday’s opening day, racing will be conducted on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. There are 16 stakes to be run over the six days with purses of $10 million. The total purses handed out over the six days will be in excess of $15 million.
Maiden special weight races for Kentucky-breds will offer a purse of $135,000; first-level allowance races $145,800 and second-level allowance races $156,600.
There are three races that will have a $1 million purse—the WinStar Mint Million (G3) on Sunday, the Calumet Turf Cup (G2) which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (G3) which will award a starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Both Breeders’ Cup Challenge races will be contested on Saturday.
Top Jocks Headed to Franklin
Brian Hernandez Jr. is Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest rider with 51 victories, seven more than second place Florent Geroux and nine more than third-place Julien Leparoux. Each jockey has won the Kentucky Downs meet title twice.
The trio will have plenty of competition this year. Among the jockeys landing in Franklin this week will be Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz Jr., Saratoga’s leading rider Luis Saez and west coast based jockey Umberto Rispoli.
“It’s getting tougher. Now you’re getting guys like the Ortiz brothers,” Hernandez Jr. said. “Those guys from New York used to not come, so we’d pick up horses for the New York trainers. Now you’re getting guys following their horses down there because the money is so good. Now you’re riding for the guys you ride for every day, rather than picking up horses. It’s just tougher competition.”
For horseplayers we can’t ask for more than large competitive fields with the top trainers and jockeys competing.
The track is horseplayer friendly when it comes to takeout as well highlighted by the Pick 4 at 14% and the Pick 5 at 15%. The exacta rate is 18.25%, while the doubles, trifectas and superfectas are at 19%.
Let’s head out to Kentucky Downs for Sunday’s featured race of the day:
Kentucky Downs Race 10 The Dueling Grounds Derby (5:25 CT)
#8 Cellist 4-1
#3 Yes This Time 6-1
#12 Du Jour 5-2
#9 Royal Prince 10-1
The colt set the early fractions and weakened to finish sixth last out in the Saratoga Derby (G1) going 1 3/16 miles on the grass. He was third in the Belmont Derby (G1) two back at 1 1/4 miles, chasing the early pace, taking over the lead and then not having enough left late, coming up 1 12 lengths short. He has to get more ground here but there is not an abundance of speed signed up and front runners can stretch out their speed over the turf here. If he is able to set moderate early fractions he is going to be around late. He has handled ground with some give to it and there is some rain in the forecast.
Yes This Time
The Breen trainee was pinched back coming out of the gate last out in the Saratoga Derby (G1) and after being last early he passed a couple of tired foes late to check in eighth at 22-1. That snapped a five-race winning streak that included taking the Kent (G3) two back at Delaware Park over soft ground going 1 1/8 miles. He picks up Gaffalione who is coming off an outstanding meeting at the Spa. He should be closer to the pace here with a cleaner break and the 6-1 morning line looks fair enough. The distance is a bit of a question mark, but he is capable of being more competitive in this spot.
This colt stalked the early pace while saving ground and finished up well for third din the Saratoga Derby. He was fourth in the Belmont Derby (G1) two back over good ground. He won his first two starts against winners including taking the American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs back in May. He makes his third start of his current form cycle here but does draw a tough post.