And we're off! 190 horses entered for opener

Jennie Rees

(Photo: Henley's Joy won his debut at Ellis Park. Coady Photography)

Video: Julien Leparoux on Kentucky Downs

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018) — To show how Kentucky Downs has evolved, a Grade 3 stakes at world-famous Saratoga was the back-up plan for Henley’s Joy, one of 11 two-year-olds entered Tuesday for Saturday’s $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile on opening day of America’s most unique race meet.

Henley’s Joy, owned by Bloom Racing Stable and trained by Mike Maker, won an Ellis Park maiden race at the Juvenile’s new mile distance July 21 in his only start. The Kentucky Downs race has been the plan even before that. But, fearful that the stakes might overfill and Henley’s Joy not get in under the preference system, the colt also was entered in Saratoga’s $150,000 With Anticipation, a Grade 3 race Wednesday for which he was the third choice.

“We’ve been high on this horse from the get-go,” Maker said.

Jeff Bloom won the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last year with the Steve Asmussen-trained Snapper Sinclair. Asked who was pointing toward the race more, the trainer or the owner, Maker joked, “Actually, Jeff. Well it was close. It might have been dead heat. We got a little worried about getting in, so we entered at Saratoga as a backup.”

Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest trainer and the three-time defending meet titlist, has five horses entered on Saturday’s card. If he’d had his way, he’d be running at least twice that many.

Maker has horses in three of Saturday’s four stakes: Jordan Wycoff’s Gianna’s Dream in the $250,000 One Dreamer, Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Camelot Kitten in the $750,000 Tourist Mile and Bloom Racing’s Henley’s Joy in the $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile. The only stakes Maker isn’t in opening day is the $400,000 Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies.

But two other Maker-trained horses will need three defections each in order to get in overfilled allowances races Saturday. And that doesn’t take into account horses he entered — “like five or six” — that didn’t even make the also-eligible list.

In that regard, Maker has good company. A total of 190 horses were entered for Saturday’s 10-race card, including a 2-year-old filly maiden race that attracted 53 entries. Twelve horses can start in a race, with up to four more put on the “also-eligible” list, making them eligible to run if there are scratches.

The only races that didn’t draw more than 12 entries were the Juvenile and the eight-horse Tourist Mile.

Maker said all the rain at Saratoga, creating soft turf or races coming off the turf, has gotten some of his horses off schedule. “But obviously anything that fits (at Kentucky Downs), we want to run there,” he said.

Gianna’s Dream is a multiple stakes-winner who also has placed in multiple graded stakes. She steps back from graded company in the One Dreamer, held at a mile and 70 yards and for fillies and mares that have not won a stakes in 2018. As an Oklahoma-bred, Gianna’s Dream will run for $150,000 rather than the entire $250,000 pot available from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.

Maker said at times the 5-year-old mare, who is 9 for 22 overall with two seconds and five thirds, simply hasn’t gotten the trip needed to win. Then she suffered a bout of colic the morning of a stakes at Mountaineer Park earlier this month, forcing a scratch.

“She’s doing well, and I like the opportunity for the one-turn mile, too,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get her a graded victory, but that hasn’t worked out so far.”

Millionaire Camelot Kitten, a four-time graded-stakes winner two years ago at age 3, seeks to regain his best form in the Tourist Mile, presented by WinStar Farm. He was a decent fourth after dueling for the lead in the stretch in Woodbine’s 1 1/2-mile Singspiel in his last start. Before that, he was seventh in in a seven-furlong race in Canada.

“He’s Bobby’s Kitten’s brother, so we tried sprinting,” Maker said of the winner of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. “A mile and a half is too far and seven-eighths is too short. So we’ll try to give him something in the middle.”

Maker expects to have multiple entries in some of next week’s stakes with his contingent, that includes Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Oscar Nominated in defense of last year’s victory in the Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup, a Grade 3 race now worth $750,000. Maker is seeking a record-breaking fourth victory in the 1 1/2-mile stakes, having also won in 2016 and 2017 with Da Big Hoss. He’s the only trainer to win Kentucky Downs’ signature race three consecutive years, with Jonathan Sheppard the only other three-time winner.

“He’s doing fabulous,” Maker said of Oscar Nominated, “Looks better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Bloom excited about return to KY Downs

California owner Jeff Bloom loves Saratoga but says the chance to run for an additional $250,000 provided powerful motivation to make the $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile the first choice for his Bloom Racing partnership’s Henley’s Joy.

“It is a lot of money,” he said. “And we have a great affinity for Kentucky Downs. obviously it’s been a great spot for us, and $400,000 is a big pot…. I love it there. It’s a quirky charm, kind of like going to a really cool fair with top-notch horse racing. It’s just a very fun, exciting and lucrative place to be racing. And it’s really close to Nashville, which is one of my favorite towns to visit. You’ve got great culture and food to take advantage of, and it’s actually quite easy to get to Kentucky Downs coming through Nashville.

“And it’s a cool time of the year, as summer is winding down. It gives you that little extra boost of summer racing.”
Bloom Racing is unbeaten in two starts at Kentucky Downs, having won not only the then- $350,000 Juvenile with Snapper Sinclair last year but a 1 1/2-mile, $135,000 maiden race immediately afterward with Run Time, the first horse Bloom Racing had with Maker.

“Hopefully we’ll keep our win streak going,” Bloom said, adding of Henley’s Joy, who was shuffled back from sixth to ninth midway through his debut before coming on to win at 15-1 odds in the 12-horse field. “He’s only run that one time. But what he did in that race was pretty impressive for a first-time starter, a green 2-year-old. So we’re excited. I’m thrilled we got him in there. Snapper came in with a little more experience, not much. Henley has the one race, but he got a lot of education in that one race.

“We kept him in Kentucky this whole summer pointing for this specific race. Look, everybody loves racing at Saratoga. We do, too. It’s great racing there. But you can’t discount what’s going on in Kentucky, either. It’s nice to have those options as indicated by what we’ve done with Henley’s Joy. The Kentucky Downs Juvenile was our first priority and target since he broke his maiden.”

As for Snapper Sinclair, the 2017 Juvenile winner got time off after finishing fifth in the Louisiana Derby. “He wasn’t on the shelf,” Bloom said. “We just kicked him out for a little breather, but he’s been back with Steve for a while. He’s just getting his legs underneath him. He’ll get back on the official work tab pretty soon and we’ll have him ready for a fall campaign.”

Ramsey targets seventh straight title

Ken and Sarah Ramsey of Nicholasville, Ky., one of Maker’s major clients and Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest owner, are actively pursuing their seventh straight owners title and ninth overall at the track. Ken Ramsey said he has about 20 horses he hopes to run at the meet, a contingent that includes Oscar Nominated.

Ramsey said his laser focus on Kentucky Downs has multiple motivations, including the fact that horses sired by Kitten’s Joy run so well over the course. Kitten’s Joy is the champion turf horse the Ramseys bred, campaigned and stood at stud at their Ramsey Farm until partnering this year with Hill ’n’ Dale Farm.

“Now that I’ve got the streak going, you want to see how long as you can go,” Ramsey said. “That’s certainly an incentive. And the money is the highest in North America. I don’t think any other track comes close. And we’ve had exceptionally good luck with the Kitten’s Joys there. They really like the track and run well.

“And we really appreciate Kentucky Downs lowering the takeout (the amount off the top of each dollar bet) below their legal maximum. The purses are the greatest in North America and the takeout is the lowest in North America. That says it all. It’s racing as it should be.

“I like the way they operate, because they have the industry at heart. If they have the industry at heart as their main focus, they will be successful. Just look at the entries you’ve got. Everybody and their brother wants to run down there…. They have trouble filling races all over. In this case, we have trouble trying to get in.

Leparoux: KY Downs ‘very tactical’ course

Julien Leparoux, winner of the riding title last year and in 2014, will again ride all five days of Kentucky Downs meet, one of the jockey’s favorite stops on his circuit.

“Kentucky Downs is different than the tracks we see everywhere else,” Leparoux said at Saratoga before guiding 15-1 shot Glorious Empire to victory in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. “It’s a lot up and down, hills, right turn, long turns. It’s a fun track. You have to know the track, to be able to adapt to it. But it’s a very fun track to ride and we really look forward to those five days in September.

Leparoux called Kentucky Downs a “very tactical” track to ride and said his preparation includes frequently walking the course.

“Especially the first day, anyway,” he said. “But now they can move the rail. They used to not be able to do that. Now they can do it, so we walk to the track to see where it is.

“Obviously the purses are the best. Corey Johnsen has done a great job with the track,” he said, referencing Kentucky Downs’ president and part-owner. “Not only the purses but the track itself. The turf course is awesome. They have a new rail now that they can move. With the drainage system they have now, the water doesn’t sit on the track. They did a great job with it. I think they’ve done some renovation this year, so I can’t wait to see it.

“It’s like a country-fair type feeling, where people love to come. I’ll bring the kids sometimes, too. They love to be there. For the jockeys, it’s a great change.”

Upcoming events

Saturday Sept. 1: Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation Day benefiting equine research. Four stakes races: $400,000 Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies; $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile; $750,000 Tourist Mile;$250,000 One Dreamer. Bowling Green's WUHU onsite 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Family Fun Day activities, including petting zoo, face painting and pony rides. First post: 1:25 p.m. CT

Thursday Sept. 6: Old Friends Day. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith autograph session of commemorative Justify prints 1-3 p.m.CT. ESPN Louisville V Show with Bob Valvano, broadcasting from track from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. CT. WGFX – FM Nashville onsite 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Stakes: $250,000 Old Friends (winner guaranteed a home at Old Friends thoroughbred retirement farm upon retirement from racing or breeding). First post: 1:25 p.m. CT

Saturday Sept. 8: Kentucky Turf Cup Day, featuring five stakes totaling $2.7 million: $750,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (G3); $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint; $500,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3); $500,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (G3); $450,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint (G3). Family Fun Day activities, including petting zoo, face painting and pony rides. First post: 1:25 p.m. CT

Sunday Sept. 9: College Day: Full-time college students ma sign up to win via drawing one of 10 Microsoft® Surface tablets courtesy of the Kentucky HBPA or one of two $1,500 scholarships. Two stakes: $400,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby and $300,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks. Claiming Crown preview races featuring four starter-allowance races worth $100,000 each designed as a stepping stone to the Claiming Crown Championship at Gulfstream Park in late fall. Winners receive an automatic berth in the corresponding Claiming Crown Championship race, plus $1,000 in travel expenses. Family Fun Day activities, including petting zoo, face painting and pony rides. First post: 1:25 p.m. CT

Thursday, Sept. 13: Franklin-Simpson Day, featuring two stakes: $400,000 Ramsey Farm, $300,000 Franklin-Simpson Stakes. First post: 1:25 p.m. CT