(Photo above: Channel Cat winning the Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont Park. Coglianese Photos)
By Mike Kane,
for Kentucky Downs publicity
FRANKLIN, Ky. (Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021) – Calumet Farm’s trainer Jack Sisterson is looking forward to the distinctive all-turf FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs, which opens this Sunday.
The six-day season continues on Labor Day Monday, Sept. 8, 9, 11 and 12. First post is 12:20 p.m. Central.
Since he was hired as Calumet’s private trainer in May 2018, Sisterson has increased his involvement at Kentucky Downs. He had two starters that first year, seven in 2019 and 10 last year. As this meet approached, Sisterson said Calumet would be well-represented in stakes – including G1 Man o’ War winner Channel Cat in the $1 million, Grade 2 Calumet Turf Cup – and overnight races. He has four horses entered for the opening-day 11-race program and another two in Monday. That includes In Effect in Sunday’s $750,000 Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby.
Sisterson, who is still looking for his first win at the track, said that Kentucky Downs is a refreshing change of pace from typical American racing and fits the Calumet program. As an aside, Calumet Farm owner Brad Kelley, who grew up in Simpson County, also owned Kentucky Downs in partnership and then outright from 1997-2007. Among Calumet Farm’s stallions is 2007 male turf champion English Channel.
“Well, it’s obviously intriguing because we have a lot of horses that are bred to run on the grass,” Sisterson said. “We have a lot of English Channels because he stands at Calumet and they really seem to take to that configuration. It is quite refreshing to go down there for a week of racing, just because it is different. It’s not the flat oval track. You’ve got the mile and five-sixteenth, 6 1/2. It’s just a great, fun week.”
However, Sisterson said that the undulating kidney-shaped course can be a bit of an adventure for horsemen.
“You’ve no idea what horse is going to take to it,” he said. “Which horse won’t. Which horse will. Full fields. Just a lot of excitement going on down there.”
Sisterson had Channel Cat with him at Saratoga all summer. After Channel Cat finished fourth in the G2 Bowling Green on July 31, Sisterson opted to skip Saratoga’s G1 Sword Dancer on Aug. 28 and wait for the race sponsored by Calumet. He thought that the Calumet Turf Cup was a better fit for the speedy horse. Plus there was no need to guess whether the 6-year-old son of English Channel can handle Kentucky Downs: he won the 2018 Dueling Grounds Derby while being trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher.
Trainer Kenny McPeek will go after his third victory in the $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks Sunday with Susan Moulton’s Oliviaofthedesert. The Bernardini filly was fourth in Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Dueling Grounds Oaks on Aug. 7 at Ellis Park. Last year at Kentucky Downs, Oliviaofthedesert finished third in the $500,000 Mint Juvenile Fillies.
McPeek, a stalwart at the track, ranks fourth in career wins with 26 from 153 starts. He said he expects to have at least 20 starters during the meet.
Four-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Chad Brown, perennially the champion turf trainer in America, was the leading money winner at last year’s meet with $980,375. A good chunk of that came from Juddmonte Farms’ Flavius winning the $750,000 Tourist Mile, which this year was elevated to Grade 3 status, received a purse hike to $1 million and was renamed the WinStar Mint Million.
Flavius will seek to become the first two-time winner of the stakes, drawing post 11 in the field of 11 for Monday’s race. In his most recent start, Flavius won the restricted Lure Stakes on Aug. 7 at Saratoga.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has plenty of experience at Kentucky Downs. He has five wins from 13 career starts. He started running more at the track a few year ago on the advice of his son Reeve, then an assistant and now with his own stable. Reeve McGaughey encouraged his dad to re-establish more of a presence in their native Kentucky. The elder McGaughey was a mainstay in Kentucky until relocating to New York in the mid-1980s.
McGaughey entered Joseph Allen’s homebred 3-year-old filly Flying Fortress in Sunday’s seventh race, a $145,000 first-level allowance. Flying Fortress, a daughter of Uncle Mo out of Dakota Queen by War Front, broke her maiden first-out on Aug. 4 at Colonial Downs. She is a full sister to Allen’s Enola Gay, who broken her maiden at Kentucky Downs in 2019 and won the G2 Appalachian during Keeneland’s 2020 summer meet. (Enola Gay also won an allowance race Tuesday at Colonial Downs.)
McGaughey said the timing of the Kentucky Downs meet is ideal for New York-based horsemen who face a gap between the end of the Saratoga season and the start of the Belmont fall meet on Sept. 16.
“I think it’s a good alternative,” he said. “We leave here on Labor Day and don’t run again until the following Thursday. It fits right in there, so why not take advantage of it and take advantage of the purses?”