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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Kentucky Downs’ boutique race meet is a burgeoning success story in an industry that in modern times has had little to smile about.

In America, success in business is built on two pillars; having a good product and, repeat after me thrice, location. Kentucky Downs is fortunate enough to have both.

Depending on one’s definition of relatively close, Franklin Kentucky is accessible from five neighboring states. The population that is key to the track’s success is its proximity to Nashville, TN, a 40-minute drive south.

Kentucky Downs turf course

Kentucky Downs’ All-Turf-All-The-Time program works well for two reasons: Grass races attract fields that skew larger than dirt, which is one reason why it’s popular bettors. It’s takeout rates, on balance the country’s best, is the other.

Aesthetically, turf racing plays well into the expansion of the wide-wide-world racing narrative. Turf racing is kinder on horses, albeit not necessarily to the people who bet on them.

Indeed, everyone loves higher parimutuel payouts which turf racing more easily affords. The problem is going out and finding the right one, and all the preparation in the world can never prepare bettors for the vagueries of “the turf trip.”

Contextually, Kentucky Downs falls neatly into a careful-what-you-wish-for dynamic. There is no escaping the higher degree of difficulty associated with handicapping large-field grass races.

In our view, results were a little more formful this year. And formful results does not necessarily equate to the success rate of winning favorites. Horses that make sense are not always obvious to the crowd.

Our theory for 2019 is that the course was more speed favoring compared to years past. Firm ground helps the best, naturally fastest horses win, the majority of which possess tactical speed.

But over any grass ground, trips rule, and the large course with its odd configuration, factors that make KD racing so interesting and compelling, makes it irksome for trip handicappers to assess what’s happening.

At present, it’s difficult to follow the action which makes defining trips–never mind in-race nuances–difficult. The races need a tighter presentation from disparate angles, but not so many as to be disorienting. This can be a difficult balance.

This year’s presentation was better than in previous years but still has a way to go. Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice-president and general manager is aware:

“Kentucky Downs is always looking for ways to enhance the live-racing experience” Nicholson said, responding to HRI through its spokesperson.

“Improving the quality of our race video production is a priority that is separate, with separate dollars to be committed from the $25 million first phase of our facility expansion and renovation…

“We thought we made strides this year by bringing in professional cameramen and David Loignon, who has many years in [horse-race production]…. 

“There are challenges in showing races over a large course with varying elevations and which isn’t an oval. Next year we will have longer-reaching cameras… 

“We are also going to be improving the timing system and have a system that will display all of the runners’ locations…

“We have one of the best racing products in the country with the largest fields and lowest overall blended takeout, and we are committed to having video production commensurate to that quality.”

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10 Responses

  1. Good point, however, when it comes to KD, or Keeneland, Del Mar, Saratoga, the location makes the racing special and, of course, vice versa.

    Consider that, on balance, couldn’t you posit that $100K purse would attract more horses to a Saratoga race than the same condition at Belmont Park?

  2. Saratoga has cachet along with summer meeting, tourist crowd, etc. Hey, you can head north to Adirondacks and climb Mt. Marcy, NY’s highest peak (did this when much younger, Alice). A better comparison, in my opinion, would be 100k at Belmont or 100k at Parx, Laurel, or just about any on wmcorrow’s beloved mid-Atlantic tracks. Saratoga is an outlier, “The summer place to be.” JP, we always look for an opening in your postings to pounce, ha, ha.

  3. Goes with the territory Mal, and I don’t take criticism or disagreement personally unless the remarks are gratuitous, disingenuous or worse. Otherwise, the site is about engagement…

  4. Getting back to subject matter, the large surface and unusual configuration does bring with it video presentation challenges. If I might paraphrase a one-word line from 1967’s “The Graduate,” in which Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin received advice about his future upon graduation from a well meaning party guest: “One word: Drones”

  5. Saratoga is much more than just location, but yes I agree. My comment regarding purse money was in no way gratuitous or disingenuous, and was intended only to point out that the driving force behind good racing is the purse money. Build a “Lunar Downs” on the moon, with large purses, and they will wager, the larger the purse, the more money will be wagered, and is the main force behind large fields (if the purse money for the overall meet is consistent so as to get them to ship). Thus, standing by my honest and informative statement above.

  6. Ted,

    First, I was responding to a Mal comment’s comment about “always ready to pounce.”.

    Second, and most importantly, mine was a general statement, explaining that I can take criticism, that criticism goes with the website territory, “unless the remarks are totally gratuitous and disingenuous.”

    There was no need to defend yourself opinion. Did you miss where I said “Good point?”

  7. Enjoy your Siskel and Ebert movie references. Saw The Graduate when first opened on 59th St (Baronet and Coronet Theaters). Went to showing at 7:00 and remained in seat for 9:00 PM as well. Never did that before (or since). Love Dustin Hoffman. Did you watch the ill-fated HBO show, Luck? Guys at Santa Anita pooling their money for Pick 6 carryover pots and then hitting. Liked TTT’s Lunar Downs. Elon Musk could shuttle gamblers to moon in time for the early DD.

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