Two of the things that make Thoroughbred racing the greatest game in the world are predictable unpredictability and the adrenaline rush the thrill of victory produces. Both were more than present on September 9 at Kentucky Downs. As one of the biggest days on the turf racing calendar, Turf Cup Day did its due diligence in adding to the lore of an ever-blossoming destination.
The grass at Kentucky Downs has certainly gotten a lot greener in recent years. The now lush Franklin, Kentucky lawn is in large part due to the fertilization of the fescue with dead presidents. A track that once struggled now offers the largest per-race purses in the United States. The infusion of cash has increased the competition which in turn has produced a haven for the horse player. It has been a winning combination for all involved. Turf Cup Day 2023 exemplified all of the above and then some.
September 9 was in fact a day for the ages. Five Stakes races worth $1 million and the FanDuel Turf Cup sporting a Louis Vuitton-like $1.7 million purse meant the card was flat loaded. Those kinds of greenbacks meant large numbers of entrants and lots of talent. That combined with the undulating nature of an oddly shaped course produced an unpredictability that was spelled in all capital letters. The Ainsworth Turf Sprint and the FanDuel Turf Cup were both win and you’re in races for the Breeders’ Cup with each producing longshot winners. Gear Jockey (23-1 Turf Sprint) and Get Smokin (19-1 Turf Cup) were key elements in a 50-cent late pick 4 that paid a cool $10,057.20 and a 50-cent late pick 5 that rewarded a winning ticket with $88,263.52. In the six Stakes races, the average payout on the 10-cent superfecta was $439.90 and a $2 win bet paid an average of $22. Not bad for those that guessed right.
As we mentioned before, the nature of this turf course is like no other in the United States. Some horses run well over it, others do not. This also is a recipe for upsets. Gear Jockey was a classic example of a runner who relishes this southern Kentucky grass. Since winning this same race in September of 2021, this Rusty Arnold-trained runner was winless in nine starts. Pointing to this very race since the beginning of the year, Arnold brought in a veteran with 23 starts under his saddle to Franklin after only running in one race this year.
“We thought we had him right coming in and he really ran huge”, says Arnold. “We know he likes it here and this has been our target all year. He has had his issues since being here in 2021, but we have him back in a good place.”
Get Smokin made his first start at Kentucky Downs a memorable one. Taking an accomplished field gate to wire for a mile and a half, this Mark Casse-trained son of Get Stormy was a runaway locomotive. Running with authority from beginning to end while hauling home $989,000 as the winner’s share, he left little doubt as to who was best on this day.
All of the aforementioned meant mission accomplished for Kentucky Downs. Yes, there were large purses and payouts, but to really be a winner, all you had to do was show up.