Kentucky Downs Breeders' Cup Challenge Races: By The Numbers

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September 9th, 2021

The United States’ only European-style racetrack has quickly become one of the premier turf courses. Kentucky Downs not only offers great racing, but its stakes races are becoming important lead-ups to the Breeders’ Cup, as can be seen when studying them by the numbers.


The number of Breeders’ Cup challenge winners at Kentucky Downs to win their corresponding Breeders’ Cup races. There have, however, only been two opportunities: 2019 Turf Sprint S. winner Totally Boss finished 10th of 12 in 2019, and last year Imprimis finished 13th of 14 in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1). There will be plenty of time to improve this record in future.


The record time for the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint S. (G3). It was set in 2019 by Totally Boss, who scored an impressive 1 1/4 length victory in the race. In his wake was Imprimis (fourth), who would win the following year, and Stormy Liberal (seventh), who had won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) the two previous years. It suggested Totally Boss could be a contender for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and he started on the fourth line of betting at 5.90-1, but he was never in the hunt and beat two home.


The number of Kentucky Downs races that provide automatic entry to the Breeders’ Cup. The Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (G3) became the first, in 2019; its winner gets automatic qualification for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). This year, the $1 million Calumet Turf Cup (G2) winner will for the first time gain automatic entry to the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Don’t be surprised if some of the other rich races at the Kentucky Downs meet become Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In races in future years.


The number of horses to have won the Turf Cup (G2) twice, though all did so in differing circumstances. Rochester (2002-03) was the first, though he only got the second of those after Art Variety was disqualified from winning due to interference. Da Big Hoss (2015-16) was the second, while 2018 winner Arklow became the first horse to earn the trophy in non-consecutive year in 2020.


The number of runnings of the Turf Cup (G2) that Arklow will have contested after Saturday’s event. The seven-year-old son of Arch has had a strong affinity with the race, winning the race by a half-length in 2018, finishing second behind Zulu Alpha in 2019, and scoring by 1 1/4 lengths last year. Each time, he headed to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) following his Kentucky Downs triumph, his best finish being fourth behind European champion mare Enable in 2018. Arklow earned $2.75 million prior to Saturday’s event, with his biggest victory outside Kentucky Downs being the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont Park in 2019.


The number of editions of the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (G3) held to date. First run in 1998 as the Turf Dash Stakes, it has been staged every year apart from 2011. It was raced at six furlongs from its first edition until 2014, when it was increased to 6 1/2 furlongs, but it was brought back to six furlongs in 2019. The only repeat winner is Hold The Salt, who won in 2007 and 2008.


The year the Turf Cup (G2) was first run. It was the first year that racing was staged at the venue, which was then called Dueling Grounds Racecourse as the venue had previously been the site for numerous duels in the 1800s. One of those duellers was Sam Houston, whose later posts included Governor of Tennessee, President of the short-lived Republic of Texas (which named what is now its largest city in his honor), and Senator for Texas. The race was initially called the Sam Houston Handicap for its first six years, and its first winner was Slow Fuse.


The prizemoney in dollars for both the Calumet Turf Cup *G2) and the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (G3). The Turf Cup has been worth $1 million since 2019, while the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint hits $1 million for the first time in 2021. Both are very valuable prizes, but the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint is now equal in value with the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). It’s not surprising that it’s a key American guide to the Breeders’ Cup: four horses from the 2019 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint went on to the Breeders’ Cup, and three more did so in 2020.