Kentucky Downs 2019 Meet Preview

Profile Picture: Joe Kristufek

August 29th, 2019

Full fields of talented horses on grass and low takeout rates. When it comes to racing, wagering and most importantly, profit potential, those are a few of my favorite things! Hidden in Franklin, Kentucky, but just miles from Nashville, Tennessee, Kentucky Downs is beyond unique, and being dialed in to the track’s idiosyncrasies can be a huge advantage at the betting windows over the short, five-day “all turf” meet (August 31 and Septtember 5, 7, 8 and 12). Do take note that first post has been moved up to 12:15 p.m. CDT (1:15 p.m. EDT). This is the first Kentucky Downs meet run by the new ownership partnership headed by Ron Winchell and Marc Falcone. Michael Wrona will call the action and Bryon King handles the morning-line duties. America's only European-style course, the almost pear-shaped Kentucky Downs turf is 1 5/16 miles in circumference. There is a steep rise then downhill run on a right-handed dogleg around the six-furlong mark, a sweeping turn into the stretch and a seemingly endless quarter of a mile sprint home. Kentucky Downs has a portable rail, which can certainly come in handy. “The turf course has never looked better,” said Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager Ted Nicholson. “We have just aerated more often, fertilized more, killed all of the weeds off – and watered, watered, watered. Our turf course superintendent is told to water the course every day in the summer, even if the forecast is for rain, short of when it is actually raining.” $11.5 million in purses ($2.3 million daily average) will be offered over the five racing days. The racing schedule is highlighted by 14 stakes (five graded) and four “Win & You’re In” races for the Claiming Crown. The Saturday, August 31, opening day 10-race card averages 11.7 horses per event with 28 horses listed as “also eligibles.” There are four stakes on the program – the $250,000 One Dreamer for filly and mare routers who haven’t won a stake in 2019; the $750,000 Tourist Mile for three-year olds and up; the $500,000 Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies for two-year-old filly milers; and the $500,000 Gainesway Farm Juvenile for two-year-old milers. The Wagering Menu (bet, with minimum wager and takeout rate) is as follows: Exacta ($1, 18.25%), Trifecta ($.50, 19%), Superfecta ($0.10, 19%) every race; rolling Double ($1, 19%) races 1-9; rolling Pick 3 ($0.50, 19%) races 1-8; Pick 4 ($0.50, 14%), starts with races 2 and 7; Pick 5 ($0.50, 14%) starts with races 1 and 6; Super Hi-5 ($0.50, 19%) race 10. The Jockey Wager has been eliminated. Lucrative purses inspire lots of entries. For handicapping and wagering purses, I’ll begin by eliminating the overmatched horses from consideration, and then proceed the contenders in preferential order in an A, B and C format. Here are some important handicapping angles to take advantage of:
  • Horses with early speed typically have an advantage in sprints (6 and 6 1/2 furlongs). The run from the three-quarter pole to the turn is mostly downhill, which allows speed horses to gain momentum without having to expend too much energy. The stretch gradually slopes uphill, which in a short race can take some of the steam out of the closers.
  • Because the initial run on the backstretch is uphill over the undulating course, late runners typically have an advantage in routes (a mile or further). Speed horses have to work harder early on, and the long stretch often proves daunting.
  • In all races, the winning move is often made on the wide, sweeping turn for home.
  • When the course is super dry, inside speed dominates. The course plays much more fairly, and can even tilt towards outside and off the pace, when there is give in the ground. If there is a measurable rainfall, tilt your advance handicapping towards outside and off the pace. The opening day forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures hovering around 90 degrees.
  • As a morning line maker who takes a lot of pride in his work, I kept track of the lines that I felt I “missed.” Over three years that I did the job (2015-2017), there were 24 times when a horse was bet down noticeably from my program odds. Ten of those horses won, four ran second and four others ran third. That’s significant. Former Daily Racing Form writer and handicapper Byron King will project the odds this season. I am confident he will do an excellent job (it’s not easy). The point I’m trying to make is, even more so than with other tracks, watch the toteboard for clues. If a horse opens up live on the toteboard, chances are they are live in the race. With the lucrative purses offered, trainers certainly point to the Kentucky Downs meet.
  • With 47 wins from 252 lifetime starts (18.6%), Brian Hernandez Jr. is the all-time leading jockey at Kentucky Downs, but in recent years, Florent Geroux (37 for 154 = 24%) and Julien Leparoux (32 for 180 = 17.8%) have enjoyed lots of success.
  • In 2017, his first season at Kentucky Downs, Jose Ortiz won with 4 of his 26 mounts, but last year he won the jockey title going away, winning nine of 31. He rides a lot of live horses for Mike Maker, making him the odds-on favorite to repeat as riding champion.
  • Other top “non-Kentucky” jockeys expected to compete at Kentucky Downs regularly this meet include Flavian Prat, Joel Rosario, Rafael Bejarano and Draden Van Dyke.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, Corey Lanerie, who has dominated the Bluegrass State for the better part of a decade, has not done his best work at Kentucky Downs (19 for 237 = 8%).
  • The top two trainers in the history of Kentucky Downs are Mike Maker (51 for 253 = 20.2%), who won the 2018 title 9-4 over Mark Casse, and Wesley Ward (28 for 130 = 21.5%). Both trainers point for the meet and should be considered live in nearly every race they enter.
  • Steve Asmussen is just 10 for 83 (12%) lifetime at Kentucky Downs, but he’s often dangerous in the two-year-old races.
  • Kentucky Downs has not been kind to Dale Romans (10 for 141 = 7.1%)
  • The rates are lower than the national average across the board, but multi-race players take note that the Pick 4 and Pick 5 takeout is a mere 14% (minimum wager 50-cents). Take advantage!
I’ll be joining Caton Bredar on the opening day simulcast show and will provide daily selections on the Kentucky Downs’ races on my Twin Spires blog, so stay tuned, and let’s cash some tickets!