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 Sept. 5, 7, 8 and 12 with 10 turf races each day. First post is 12:15 p.m., with free general admission and parking at the Franklin track.
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 Juvenile Fillies drew 57 nominees, with some of the 2-year-old fillies also nominated for the Gainesway Farm Juvenile. The fourth stakes Aug. 31, the $250,000 One Dreamer for fillies and mares that haven’t won a stakes in 2019, attracted 56 nominations.
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).
Horses born outside Kentucky still compete for $400,000, making it one of the most lucrative stakes for turf milers in America.
Conor Murphy, trainer of 2018 Tourist Mile runner-up Great Wide Open, said the Irish-bred 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 in a news release. “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.
Entries for the opening-day card will be taken Tuesday.