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’ 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.”