With Sunday’s Kentucky Downs Preview Day at Ellis Park receiving wide praise — “great” being a typical assessment — expectations are that the multi-stakes event will return next year even better and perhaps bigger.
A total of $2,049,132 was wagered on-track and nationally on the nine-race card that featured four $100,000 grass stakes funded by money transferred from Kentucky Downs’ purse account. That’s the most bet on Ellis Park in several years, dating to when the track ran more races on a program. Racing secretary Dan Bork called it “one of the best days of racing at Ellis Park as far as quality in the last decade.”
No one had more quality than jockey Shaun Bridgmohan and trainer Brad Cox. Bridgmohan won six races, including two stakes and four races overall for Cox.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Mike Bruder, the Evansville businessman and horse owner who is on the board of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents owners and trainers. “We got some nice quality horses and a few riders in (from out of town). I thought the card went well. The track’s a little fast, but we haven’t had any rain. But I thought the whole day went great. I think everybody was pretty happy with the results, even the bettors. It was a decent crowd, and people seemed to stay longer (Sunday) than most days. The only thing bad about the day was the heat.”
The races were competitive — including two photo finishes — with field sizes ranging from eight horses to 11.
“I think the hot weather kept a few fans away, but it was a very enthusiastic crowd and the day had a great feel,” Bork said. “I was very satisfied how the races turned out and thrilled how the horsemen supported the program. I think it was very successful for the first go at it. We obviously can improve and look forward to next year. It was great for us, for the Kentucky horsemen and for Kentucky Downs.
“We’ve got room to do a lot more. This is just the beginning.”
Kentucky Downs Preview Day is unique in American horse racing because the stakes quartet was funded entirely by purse revenue generated at another track with different ownership. It was part of a total of $2.9 million transferred from Kentucky Downs to Ellis Park this meet in an agreement with the Kentucky HBPA.
The day was created to fill a void in the summer stakes program, thereby keeping horses in Kentucky instead of shipping out of state, while timing it as a logical progression to Kentucky Downs’ big-money stakes in a month.
Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager who attended the races, said he was impressed as soon as he arrived “and I couldn’t find a place to park.
“All and all the day was great. We were thrilled with how it went and are looking forward to next year with the possibility of expanding. The concept is amazing. There aren’t too many tracks that are going to allow another track to label four races Kentucky Downs Preview. It’s great for us. But we have the purse money, and it’s a really good relationship between the two tracks.”
Bridgmohan teamed with Cox to capture the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile with Mr. Misunderstood and the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup with Arklow as well as two undercard races. Bridgmohan’s six wins was one off the Ellis Park record seven in a day recorded by Willie Martinez in the late 1990s. It also catapulted Bridgmohan into a tie for the Ellis Park lead with apprentice Edgar Morales at 18.
“Brad is having an unbelievable meet and he’s got some really nice horses,” said Bridgmohan, in his second summer of riding at Ellis instead of Saratoga. “A six win day at any track feels good, no matter where it is. And it certainly feels good to win it here.”
Cox fattened his lead in the Ellis training standings to 15-8 over Ian Wilkes. After starting off the meet 0 for 13, Cox now is 15 for 29, three wins coming in stakes.
The other stakes winners were Jazzy Times, a $25,000 claim by owner-trainer Wes Hawley who gave jockey Ty Kennedy his first Ellis Stakes victory with the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint. Gulfstream Park-based Tyler Gaffalione won the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf aboard the Mike Maker-trained I’m Betty G for the 2015 Eclipse Award apprentice jockey who was riding at Ellis Park for the first time.
“I’m glad they created this Preview Day,” Cox said by phone with a laugh.
Cox said his two winners, and possibly Will Call, will be pointed for corresponding stakes at Kentucky Downs. Jazzy Times also will be under consideration for the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint. Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest trainer, said I’m Betty G will point to the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf off her three straight victories, with Kentucky Downs Preview Mile third-place finisher Galton pointing to the $750,000 Tourist Mile and Sir Dudley Digges, third in the Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup, also in a stakes at Kentucky Downs.
Zapperini, who lost the Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup at 1 1/4 miles on the last stride, will get another crack at Arklow in the $750,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. English Affair, second by a length to I’m Betty G in her first stakes, will target Kentucky Downs’ 1 5/16-mile Ramsey Farm.