Franklin, Kentucky 42135
Kentucky Downs is a Thoroughbred horse racing track located on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee, near the city of Franklin and just off Interstate 65. It is unique among American tracks in that it is a European-style course — its surface is all turf (grass) instead of dirt, and it is not oval in shape.
In 2009, the Horseplayers Association of North America introduced a rating system for 65 Thoroughbred racetracks in North America. Of the top Ten, Kentucky Downs was ranked #2.
History and Information
The track began life in 1990 as Dueling Grounds Race Course. The name came from the history of the Sandford 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 was illegal in Tennessee but not in Kentucky. Sam Houston took part in a duel on the site. Dueling ended in 1827. The track conducted only steeplechase races in its first year, but removed the fences and switched to flat racing in 1992. The first meet featured the Dueling Grounds International, whose $750,000 purse remains the richest in American steeplechase history.
The track underwent a tumultuous series of financial misfortunes, changes in ownership, and legal battles, some of which caused the track to miss its 1997 meet. It also saw use as a concert site and a bingo hall. In 1997, the track was purchased at auction by Turfway Park, Churchill Downs and other investors. Turfway took over day-to-day management of the facility, having some of its existing staff do double duty at the new track. The name was changed to Kentucky Downs in an effort to remove the stigma attached to the Dueling Grounds brand under its previous mismanagement.
Steeplechase racing returned in 2000 with a Grade II event, as well as traditional flat racing. The track went back to flat racing only the following year, but resumed steeplechases again in 2008.
Kentucky Downs hosts a limited live racing meet each year. The 2008 meet features the Kentucky Cup Turf Festival (run one week after the Kentucky Cup race card at Turfway Park) and featuring the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf. During the rest of the year, the track functions basically as an off-track parimutuel betting site, offering simulcast wagering on most of the country's top tracks. It draws patrons largely from the nearby Nashville, Tennessee market, centered approximately 40 miles (64 km) to the south, where the only other legal gambling options are the Tennessee Lottery and riverboat casinos more than two hours away. With legislation to allow casino gaming at racetracks being a topic of frequent political debate in Kentucky (particularly in the 2007 gubernatorial campaign), Kentucky Downs stands to benefit as the closest casino to metro Nashville, should casinos become legalized.
In March 2007, a partnership led by investors Corey Johnsen and Ray Reid agreed to purchase 85% interest in the track. Johnsen is formerly president of Lone Star Park and Reid runs a private investment and banking firm. The new partnership will be managed by Reid and Johnsen. Churchill Downs, Turfway Park and the other minority investors retain a 5% share in the track. The transaction was completed on August 6, 2007.
The 2008 live racing meet comprises six days of racing, on September 13, 15, 16, 20, 22 and 23.