Kentucky Thoroughbred Racing
Keeneland Race Course
For 83 years, Keeneland Association has devoted itself to the health and vibrancy of the Thoroughbred industry. The world’s largest Thoroughbred auction house, Keeneland conducts four sales a year in January, April, September, and November, and its sales graduates dominate racing globally at every level.
In April and October, Keeneland offers some of the highest caliber and richest Thoroughbred racing in the world. A National Historic Landmark that is open year-round, Keeneland hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in 2015 and will host the event again in 2020. Uniquely structured, Keeneland is a private, for-profit corporation that returns its earnings to the industry and the community in the form of higher purses and millions of dollars donated in support of horse industry initiatives and charitable contributions for education, research, and health and human services throughout Central Kentucky. To learn more, visit Keeneland.com.
The Twin Spires atop the grandstands are the most recognizable architectural feature of Churchill Downs. The track opened amid great hoopla on May 17, 1875 and is home to the Kentucky Derby, the longest continually running sporting event in America. The founding of Churchill Downs began in 1872 when Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark traveled to England and France. He attended the Epsom Derby in England, which sparked his ambition to create a spectacle racing even in America with intentions to showcase the Kentucky breeding industry.
Believe it or not, the Kentucky Derby was not planned as the main attraction of the inaugural meet, but when H.P. McGrath’s “Aristides” set a new world record for the 1 ½-mile distance, the crowd went wild. Still, racing 3-year-olds was a relatively new venture and there were two other races that day which were bigger than the Derby—the Louisville Cup, discontinued after 1887, and the Gentlemen’s Cup Race, in which a member of a recognized jockey club rode his own horse.
Live race meets are held at Churchill Downs in May-June and in September and November. Churchill Downs is open year-round for simulcast racing from tracks around the country. To learn more, visit ChurchillDowns.com.
Located in Northern Kentucky, Turfway Park spans three centuries. The track’s roots reach from the first race at the original Latonia Race Course in 1883 in Latonia, Kentucky, which was 10 miles north of present-day Turfway. The Great Depression and changing markets forced Latonia’s gradual decline until it closed for good in July 1939. The property was sold to Standard Oil of Ohio, the track was torn down, and racing disappeared from Northern Kentucky for two decades. Drawing on the history and tradition of the original Latonia, a new track opened in Florence, Kentucky, in August 1959. After early financial challenges, the new track found footing in the mid-1960s and introduced such innovations as winter racing and night racing. In 1986, investors, led by Jerry Carroll, bought Latonia and renamed it Turfway Park.
Today, Turfway Park offers Thoroughbred racing during early spring and winter and is open year-round for simulcast racing from tracks around the country. Turfway’s signature race for 3-year-olds, formerly the Spiral Stakes (G3), is now named the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) and is a Kentucky Derby qualifier with 20 Derby points to the winner. To learn more, visit Turfway.com.
Ellis Park Race Course
Ellis Park Race Course originally Dade Park, was built in 1922 by the Green River Jockey Club. The racetrack was first named after the famous race starter A.B. “Barrett” Dade, a director and one of the organizers of the Green River Jockey Club. Although the course was planned and built for Thoroughbreds, its opening race on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 1922, was a Grand Circuit harness meet. On Nov. 18, 1922, the gates opened for the first Thoroughbred meet. Purses for the entire opening meet shaded $62,000.
Times and values, of course, have changed since the days of the old carousel paddock, when the starting gate was pulled by mules, horses came and went by train, fans arrived by ferryboat, the judges’ stand was adjacent to the finish line and odds were calculated by hand.
Ellis Park is located in Henderson, Kentucky, and runs live Thoroughbred horse racing in the summer and features year-round simulcasting. The new ownership group of Ellis Park recently unveiled plans to spend $100 million to restore the iconic track to be a showpiece for Kentucky’s horse racing and gaming industry. To learn more, visit EllisParkRacing.com.
Kentucky Downs is a Thoroughbred horse racing track and is located in Franklin, Kentucky, on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky Downs hosts a limited live racing meet each year and also offers year-round simulcasting.
Last year, Ron Winchell and Marc Falcone became the new owners and managing partners in Kentucky Downs, finalizing the purchase of the racetrack and year-round entertainment center from the investment group that purchased the facility in 2007. Winchell and Falcone bought Kentucky Downs’ assets through their new company, Kentucky Racing Acquisition LLC., and the new ownership is committed to strengthening the Commonwealth’s signature industry while continuing to be a key economic driver in the region.
The course at Kentucky Downs is unique among American tracks in that it is a European-style course, its surface is all turf instead of dirt and it is not oval in shape. The track began as Dueling Grounds Race Course in 1990. The name came from the history of the Samford Duncan farm, on whose property the track was located. The farm which was located in a slight corner of what is otherwise a perfectly straight Kentucky-Tennessee border, was the site of numerous duels in the 1800s, because dueling (which ended in 1827) was illegal in Tennessee but not in Kentucky. To learn more, visit KentuckyDowns.com.