5 important trends for Kentucky Downs

September 3rd, 2021

Large fields, rich purses, and enticing betting payoffs are par for the (unique European-style turf) course at Kentucky Downs, which will host its annual six-day meet starting Sept. 5.

In advance of betting the all-turf racing action, here are five important stats and trends about racing at Kentucky Downs.

Any running style can succeed in 6 1/2-furlong sprints

During the 2020 Kentucky Downs meet, 24 races were contested at 6 1/2 furlongs. Only 21% were won by a gate-to-wire leader, the same percentage of victories achieved by horses with the Brisnet E (early) running style designation.

For comparison, E/P (early/presser) types won 25% of the time, P (presser) types won 29%, and S (sustain or closer) types won 25%. Normally, it’s a good idea to favor speed horses in sprints. But it seems any running style can succeed on a regular basis in 6 1/2-furlongsprints at Kentucky Downs.

View fast times with a grain of salt

During the 2020 Kentucky Downs meet, fast times were commonplace. Course records were broken (and re-broken) with regularity. By the time the dust settled, new standards had been established for five of Kentucky Downs’ seven distances — 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.87, seven furlongs in 1:20.83, one mile in 1:32.21, one mile and 70 yards in 1:36.38, and 1 5/16 miles in 2:06.41.

If unusually fast times crop up again, take them with a grain of salt and judge performances accordingly.

Favor Maker, McGaughey, and Rivelli trainees

In terms of win numbers, Mike Maker has been the top trainer at Kentucky Downs since 2016, with more than twice as many wins (37) as any other conditioner.

But Maker’s win percentage is just 16%, which isn’t as flashy as the strike rates posted by Shug McGaughey (five wins, 12 starts, 42%) and Larry Rivelli (four wins, 13 starts, 31%). They don’t saddle nearly as many starters as Maker, but betting all of their runners equally would have produced profits of 118% (McGaughey) and 109% (Rivelli).

It’s hard to beat a double-your-money proposition, right?

Bet horses ridden by Jose Ortiz

Since 2016, no jockey has won more races at Kentucky Downs than Jose Ortiz, whose 30 wins from 128 starts equates to a 23% win rate. He easily topped the meet standings in 2018 and 2019 and is named to ride 24 horses across the first three days of the 2021 meet.

But don’t overlook Tyler Gaffalione, who is a force to reckon with on the Kentucky circuit. Gaffalione won 11 races from 45 starts (24%) at Kentucky Downs in 2020, which topped the meet standings. Betting all of his mounts equally would have produced a 31% profit.

Experienced juveniles trained by Wesley Ward are formidable

When trainer Wesley Ward saddles experienced juveniles in sprints at Kentucky Downs, it is wise to pay attention.

Since 2016, Ward has nine wins from 20 starts (45%) with such runners, which far exceeds his one win from 11 starts (9%) with debut juveniles in turf sprints at Kentucky Downs during the same time.

Since Ward generally has a reputation for saddling ready-to-win first-time starters, this stat bears watching in 2021. Contrary to usual perceptions, favoring Ward’s experienced juveniles is the way to cash at Kentucky Downs. Betting them all equally would have produced a profit.

Good luck!