FRANKLIN, Ky. (Friday, Dec. 1, 2017) — Kentucky Downs’ racing program received its fourth graded stakes with the $350,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint awarded Grade 3 status for 2018. The 6 1/2-furlong turf race became one of only five newly graded stakes in the United States.
Graded stakes are those judged the best in America, with Grade I being the very elite, followed by Grade II and Grade III. The annual evaluations are made by the Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association’s American Graded Stakes Committee, which rates stakes’ strength based on the overall performances of their participants in recent years in order to provide a guide to the relative quality of bloodstock. To be eligible for grading, a stakes must meet purse minimums and have no restrictions on horses other than age and sex.
The American Graded Stakes Committee met earlier this week to crunch the data and today announced next year’s graded-stakes classifications. A total of 806 races were reviewed, with 455 graded -- nine fewer than last year.
“This is the latest step in our evolution into an industry leader, and we are thrilled to offer four graded stakes in 2018 during our five-day meet,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager. “Kentucky Downs will be well-positioned as a launching pad to the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs next fall. And we encourage stables joining us from outside the region bring other horses for our $130,000 maiden races and $140,000 or $145,000 allowance races.
“It is so gratifying to our track ownership and staff to see the way owners, trainers, jockeys, fans and bettors are responding to Kentucky Downs, our record purses, full fields, low takeout rates on betting and fun atmosphere. This has led to what we want to become a pipeline of graded stakes. Out of the 13 stakes we ran in 2017, 11 are or at some point will be eligible for grading. Our goal is to get graded status for all 11.”
Kentucky Downs — the all-grass track whose five-date meet offers the richest purses in America for maiden and allowance horses, along with its lucrative stakes schedule — will race September 1, 6, 8, 9 and 13 in 2018. North America’s only European-turf course also is the site of the Grade 3 $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup, $400,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint and the $350,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, the latter two becoming graded a year ago.
Bullards Alley, sixth in the Kentucky Turf Cup this fall, in his next race won Woodbine’s Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International, while Zipessa, who narrowly lost the Ladies Turf to the outstanding Miss Temple City, captured Keeneland’s Grade 1 First Ladies in her next start. In addition, Kentucky Downs maiden winner Heavenly Love prevailed in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades.
The Ladies Sprint, in its fifth running, was won this year by breeders Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s 3-year-old filly Lull, who beat older fillies and mares to dominate a deep field that included the highly regarded Morticia. Trained by Christophe Clement, Lull went on to take the Grade 3 Autumn Miss Stakes on closing day at Santa Anita. The War Front filly also won the $350,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2016.
Kentucky Downs is coming off another record-shattering meet, totaling $30,246,887 in all-sources wagering for an average of $6,049,277 a day and up 34 percent over 2016. Off-track betting on Kentucky Downs totaled $29,217,935.98, up 35.2 percent from the previous record $21,611,352.02 in 2016. The track paid out $8,625,396 to horse owners in 2017 (up 19 percent over 2016) for a North American-record $1,725,079 in average daily purses.
Photo: The Christophe Clement-trained Lull, owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, won the 2017 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint under Brian Hernandez Jr. (Reed Palmer Photography)