Live racing returns this week to Kentucky Downs with the first of seven events scheduled for Thursday at the Franklin, Ky., facility.
John Wholihan, director of Marketing at the Mint Gaming Hall and Kentucky Downs, said that live racing at the facility offers the biggest purse at any track in the area.
‘The biggest attraction of the whole thing is the money. We are the highest average daily purse anywhere. We’re going to average more than $2 million a day in purses over each of those seven days,” Wholihan said. “The people who really like us are the horse owners, the people who own and train, they’re getting a chance for a good paycheck. Running in third place in our races can be like winning a race in some other locations. There are people who gear up for this meet. They want to take a shot because they know there’s big money.”
Wholihan said the Mint Gaming Hall’s intake of money helps to make the purse at Kentucky Downs so attractive.
“The reason there’s big money is because of the Mint Gaming Hall, what happens in those pari mutuel machines, those historical horse racing games that people play every day,” Wholihan said. “That’s helping to feed the purse structure, and what we do. So we’ve really contributed to Kentucky horse racing. We’ve contributed to a couple of state funds that don’t allow the purses. We have sent money into the state that has been redistributed, even at other tracks within Kentucky. So we really support Kentucky horse racing.”
Scheduled races this year are this week and next week on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and the final race scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 14. Races at Kentucky Downs will involve horses from 2 years old all the way up to some horse that are 5 or 6 years old.
With the race so profitable for owners and trainers, could there be room for more live racing at Kentucky Downs? It is possible, but Wholigan said it is difficult to add very many extra races to the schedule that coexists with the schedules at other race tracks in Kentucky.
“You have to fit into the calendar that already exists and gets renewed every year. For example, there’s the Keeneland Fall League in October. There’s the Churchill Fall League. They each have spring meets, so they have to squeeze in where we can,” Wholigan said. “The other thing is we don’t want to go too crazy, because we run on grass, and you just can’t keep running on that grass forever. You’ll rip it up. We spread those seven racing days over 14 games, to give it a little chance to get in there. There’s a lot of tamping and a lot of work that goes on between race days.”
The grass surface at Kentucky Downs is also somewhat unique to horse racing and is different from the dirt track at Churchill Downs, Wholihan said.
“These races are all on grass, which makes us very unique. The Derby is on the dirt. A 2-year-old here could go on here and shift to the dirt and be a part of the Derby trail in the winter time,” he said. “We really haven’t seen too much of that, so it’s more of either people are trying the younger horses on the turf or they came knowing they have a horse that is bred for the turf and they choose to come to Kentucky Downs.”
For the race schedule, the good news is that one of the tiers for admission is free.
“Because we do free general admission — we don’t do ticket-taking for those people — we don’t keep official attendance records. (Admission) is divided into a couple of things. There is a free general admission area. There’s a free tailgating area, which is down at the far turn, closest to the Tennessee side, and we have signage that will direct people there. We did a lot of this last year, so we think we have a lot of people trained in the expectation. It’s free for all the local people, and they seem to gravitate towards this,” Wholihan said. “Secondly, there is a pavilion area with food and beverage included. Those are tickets that are for sale, and people can go to themintgaming.com, our regular website, and there is a racing section on there.”
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