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  • Winchell, Falcone approved as track owners
  • SEC Tourney fans: We're an easy drive up I-65
  • Join us for upcoming Ky Derby qualifying races
  • We're going even greener for St. Paddy's Day
  • A Proforma goal: Repeating in G3 Turf Sprint
  • Franklin-Simpson winner Angaston update
  • Pays to play with Club card: Our March Mania
  • Pardi Gras! Laissez les bons temps rouler
  • March 10 'Time to Win' drawing for cool watches
  • Hembree sets course record at Gulfstream

'Largest Derby Party South of Louisville' returns May 4. Details coming soon
Winchell, Falcone approved as track owners;
KY Downs sale expected to close about March 1
(At right: Ron Winchell was interviewed by NBC after 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar. Photo courtesy Breeders' Cup)

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Feb. 19 approved noted horseman and entrepreneur Ron Winchell and prominent gaming executive Marc Falcone as majority owners of Kentucky Downs.

The sale of the track and year-round entertainment center to Winchell and Falcone is expected to close around March 1. Ted Nicholson will continue as Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager, a post he has held the past three years during which time both the Historical Horse Racing (HHR) gaming operation and live race meet have experienced record-shattering growth.

“Obviously we’re excited about what happened today,” Winchell said of receiving KHRC approval to purchase Kentucky Downs. “It’s the first step toward closing the transaction. The racing and what’s going on at Kentucky Downs, we’re super excited to be part of it and to go forward.”

“A lot of work to do, but as Ron said, we’re very excited to come to Kentucky, own Kentucky Downs and do great things for Kentucky racing,” Falcone said. 

While awaiting approval, the new owners have been working on plans for a major facility expansion. 

“I don’t know when we can actually announce something, but we’re working pretty fast on stuff,” Winchell said. 

“We needed to get this closed first,” Falcone said. “Now we can really focus on the business."

Winchell and Falcone — who are purchasing Kentucky Downs’ assets through their new company Kentucky Racing Acquisition LLC — are familiar names in the racing and gaming worlds.

Winchell oversees his family’s Winchell Thoroughbreds, a high-end racing and breeding operation located in Lexington, Ky., that currently owns more than 120 horses, including racing and breeding stock. The Winchells were co-owners of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, now a popular stallion at Three Chimneys Farm, and raced renowned sire Tapit, in whom the family still owns 50-percent interest. Ron Winchell also operates more than 20 gaming locations across Nevada. 

Falcone brings significant financial and gaming experience to Kentucky Downs, having previously served as Executive Vice President VP, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer of Red Rock Resorts, Inc and Station Casinos from 2011 to 2017. His previous investment business background includes Goldman Sachs & Co., where he focused on restructuring transactions in the hospitality and gaming sectors; Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., where as managing director he was recognized as one of the gaming, lodging and leisure industry’s top analysts; and Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc.
Kentucky Triple: Horses, hoops and HHR
You got SEC Tournament tickets? We've got game!
Join us for March mania, Kentucky Derby preps
$8 beer buckets every Sunday, plus every day of NCAA tourney
Attending the Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournament March 13-17 in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena? We're the place to go before and after your team plays, if they make an early exit or to celebrate victory. Kentucky Downs is only about a half hour from Nashville, a straight shot up Interstate 65. Don't have tickets? We'll be showing all the major basketball tournaments and the entire NCAA Tournament. The action is nonstop Fridays through Sundays as we're open 24 hours a day on weekends for our historical horse racing gaming. It's the Kentucky Triple with horses, hoops and HHR, with betting on horse racing across the country and overseas, highlighted by Kentucky Derby qualifying races. Look for our $8 March beer buckets every Sunday in March and every day of NCAA Tournament play.
Join us for Selection Sunday, March 17, and follow along by clicking on the printable version of the official NCAA Tournament bracket shown above.
Drink of the month for March: $5 Irish Mule
At left: Unbeaten 2-year-old champion Game Winner, shown winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in Santa Anita's March 9 San Felipe. Photo by Coady Photography

Let us help you find, follow, change (or all of the above) your Derby horse. Qualifying for the 145th Kentucky Derby heats up, including four races that are part of Churchill Downs' points series on a blockbuster March 9. The Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3 is March 8-10, with Pool 4 April 5-7. The lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager also is March 8-10.

March 2 - $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2), 1 1/16 miles Gulfstream Park
March 9 - $500,000 San Felipe (G2), 1 1/16 miles, Santa Anita Park
March 9 - $300,000 Gotham Stakes (G3), mile, Aqueduct Racetrack
March 9 - $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), 1 1/16 miles, Tampa Bay Downs
March 9 - $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), 1 1/8 miles, Turfway Park
March 16 - $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2), 1 1/16 miles, Oaklawn Park
March 23 - $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2), 1 1/8 miles, Fair Grounds
March 24 - $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3), 1 1/8 miles, Sunland Park
March 30 - $1 million Florida Derby (G1), 1 1/8 miles, Gulfstream Park
March 30 - $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2), 1 3/16 miles, Meydan Race Course

Improbable, 3 for 3 and winner of Churchill Downs' Street Sense Stakes (shown above) and California's Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity, could take on his champion stablemate in the San Felipe. Coady Photography
Signalman, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is scheduled to run in Gulfstream Park's Fountain of Youth, his first start since winning Churchill Downs' Kentucky Jockey Club (shown above). Coady Photography
We're now open 24 hours on weekends
Snapper Sinclair takes Oaklawn Park allowance
(At left: Bloom Racing's Snapper Sinclair winning an $85,000 Oaklawn Park allowance race under Ricardo Santana Jr. Coady Photography)

The Bloom Racing LLC partnership won the last two runnings of the Kentucky Downs Juvenile with Snapper Sinclair in 2017 and Henley’s Joy in 2018. The colts' careers could be taking different paths, with Snapper Sinclair for now on a dirt campaign after winning an Oaklawn Park second-level allowance race and Henley’s Joy going back to turf after an uncharacteristic poor performance a day earlier in the Fair Grounds' Grade 2 Risen Star.

The Feb. 17 mile allowance, which the Steve Asmussen-trained Snapper Sinclair won by 2 1/2 lengths while matching his career-high BRIS speed figure of 99, was the 4-year-old City Zip colt’s first win since taking the then $350,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile nine races earlier. However, he ran very well in several dirt starts, including losing last year’s Risen Star by a nose to Bravazo. After a pair of fourths in Fair Grounds stakes this winter, he was sent to Oaklawn and a step back to allowance company.

“We’re thinking about the ($300,000) Essex Handicap at Oaklawn on March 16," said Hannah Bloom, Bloom Racing's communications director and founder Jeff Bloom's daughter. “He came out of the race fantastic. It was like, ‘Snapper’s back!’ I don’t think we’ve thought past the Essex. We’re just excited he got a win, because we know the potential he has and how great he has been. So it was nice to see him get back in the winner’s circle.”

Henley’s Joy, who won last year's Kentucky Downs Juvenile by a neck over Tracksmith, is going back to the turf after struggling home 10th in the Feb. 16 Risen Star in his dirt debut. That followed a dominating victory in Gulfstream Park’s Pulpit Stakes and fast-closing second by a neck in the Kitten’s Joy, a race coincidentally named for Henley Joy’s sire. Henley's Joy is trained by Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs' all-time win leader.

“He’s at an age that it was the perfect time for us to see if he can run on the dirt," Hannah Bloom said, alluding to the upcoming Kentucky Derby and the fact that the Risen Star didn't come at the expense of a substantial turf stakes. "But he didn’t take to it, and that’s OK. That’s what we were looking to see: Can he take to the dirt, and if not he’ll stick to turf. So now we’re going to point toward the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland for him. He came out of the race great. Mike Maker is still very keen on him, and we’re excited to see what he can do the rest of his 3-year-old year.”

While it’s too early to know if the Dueling Grounds Derby or Franklin-Simpson, Kentucky Downs’ stakes for 3-year-olds, might be in play for Henley’s Joy, Hannah Bloom echoed her dad in saying, “We definitely love Kentucky Downs" and that they hope to have a 2-year-old to attempt a three-peat in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile.
March 1 free weekly handicapping contest
Featured track: Oaklawn; 1st post 1:30 pm CT
We're going even greener for St. Paddy's Day
St. Patrick's Day is Sunday, March 17, and Kentucky Downs is the place to celebrate. Players Club members can start early by earning 75 same-day points on March 13 or 14th to get one of our free Feelin' Lucky Kentucky Downs t-shirts, while supplies last. Wear your t-shirt on St. Paddy's Day and receive an entry into our Jackpot O' Gold for a share of $10,000 between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. CT. Green beer will be on tap, and Lucky 7s will serve corned beef and cabbage.
Proforma has G3 Turf Sprint repeat on dance card
(Joe Bravo showed his appreciation for Proforma's narrow victory over favored White Flag in last year's $500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint. Grace Clark/Reed Palmer Photography photos at left and below)

DARRS Inc.'s Proforma, winner of last year's $500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, has resumed training at the Fair Grounds after a freshening following a second-place finish in a tough edition of the track's $75,000 Thanksgiving Day Handicap on dirt won by Wynn Time.

On Feb. 17, the 5-year-old Proforma had his first timed workout since before his last start on Nov. 22, covering three-eighths of a mile in 36 1/5 seconds.

"We gave him like a six-week breather, sent him out to the farm, took him out of training to freshen him up for hopefully a strong spring and summer campaign," said trainer Mike Stidham. "Proforma is one of those horses that you wish you had a whole barnful just like him. He's a true professional, goes out there, lays his body down, tries hard every time - dirt, turf, whatever distance. He's just a real racehorse."

Proforma has won sprint stakes on turf and dirt (Fair Grounds' Sugar Bowl and Monmouth's Jersey Shore) and only been worse than fourth once in a 12-race career. After earning his first graded-stakes victory in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, Proforma was fourth against some of the grass sprint division's best in the Belmont Turf Sprint won by Disco Partner.

Stidham said the flashy-looking gelding definitely will be pointed toward a defense of Kentucky Downs victory. (Video: Stidham, Bravo and DARRs racing manager James Bredin after 2018 victory)

"I tell you what, as long as he's healthy, we're going to be there," he said. "We're looking forward to it."
Milkshake of month for March: Pina Colada
Checking in: Franklin-Simpson winner Angaston
(At left: Brian Hernandez Jr. guided Angaston to victory over Majestic Dunhill in last year's $300,000 Franklin-Simpson Stakes at Kentucky Downs. Reed Palmer Photography)

Trainer Lon Wiggins had hoped that Kentucky Downs’ 2018 Franklin-Simpson winner Angaston would start his 4-year-old season in the Fair Grounds’ $75,000 Colonel Power Stakes on Feb. 16.

Instead, the day after the Colonel Power, Twin Magnolia Farm's stable star had his first timed workout (half-mile in 49 2/5 seconds) in almost six weeks at Oaklawn Park, where Wiggins is based in the winter and which has no turf course.

“He’s doing fine,” Wiggins said by phone from Arkansas. “He’s had some minor stuff, an infection in his leg, kicked the wall. Just stuff like that which has delayed us. We were going to go in the stakes at the Fair Grounds, but we just missed too much time. Now we’re probably just pointing toward the Shakertown at Keeneland.” That’s a $200,000, Grade 2 turf stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on the undercard of the April 6 Toyota Blue Grass.

“We had him back (from a layoff) and Dec. 30 and Jan. 6 were his first couple works back, and then this happened," Wiggins said. "We’re just behind schedule but nothing major. We can handle it; just the cards we were dealt.”

Angaston, whose initial victory came in a $16,000 maiden-claiming race on dirt at Indiana Grand, came into his own after being A, gelded and B, placed on Turfway Park’s synthetic surface and then on the Churchill Downs grass, where last spring he won two allowances in his first two turf starts.

Wiggins said the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, worth $500,000 last year, is a logical late-summer target after winning the Franklin-Simpson, which is restricted to 3-year-olds and which has been awarded Grade 3 status for 2019. Like the Franklin-Simpson, the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint is at 6 1/2 furlongs.

“Sure, he’s shown he likes the course,” Wiggins said. “We sure wouldn’t be opposed to going back there.”

Angaston ended his 3-year-old season by taking on older horses in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Woodford Stakes won by 2017 victor Bucchero and with multiple stakes-winner Will Call second. Angaston was a fast-closing fourth, coming 1 1/4-lengths shy of the winner, but Wiggins said the gelding did not seem at his best.

“It was really hot that day, and he kind of had some odd things,” he said. “He didn’t switch leads down the lane. He got the ‘thumps’ (an electrolyte imbalance) a little bit after the race, a couple of things that he’d never done before. That day he just wasn’t 100-percent for some reason. Maybe it was a combination of things, maybe the track, maybe the heat. He came out of it fine. We just gave him five weeks off, got him back in the barn.

“He’s a nice horse. He proved that all last year on the grass. We’ll see this year how he handles the steeper competition. He’s got good tactical speed and he can carry it. Maybe one day down the road, we’ll try a mile with him and just see. But it would have to be the right time, all the factors would have to come together.” 

If so, one option could be Kentucky Downs’ Tourist Mile, worth $750,000 last year. “That’s definitely not out of the question,” Wiggins said. “And it would be later in the year because we’re getting going a little later than planned. We were trying to get three races in the spring: Fair Grounds, Keeneland and Churchill and see how we fared there. It keeps moving back, so we’ll take it one step at a time. As long as he stays OK, I don’t mind waiting. And he’s OK right now.”

Footnote: The horse that won the Colonel Power was Chaos Theory, making his stakes debut. Trainer Brendan Walsh said he'll definitely be looking at Kentucky Downs for Chaos Theory.
Pays to play as Club member: Our March Mania!
Mad Money Mondays, Break the Bank Wednesdays and more
  Pardi Gras! Laissez les bons temps rouler
Mardi Gras is March 5, and Kentucky Downs is celebrating Fat Tuesday. Players Club members earning just 20 points will get a "Peel and Win" Mardi Gras bead necklace for a chance to win up to $100 Free Play. We'll have $5 Hurricanes at the bar, with Lucky 7s offering a $12.99 New Orleans Chicken special. One set of beads per guest.
#KyDownsgrad Hembree sets Gulfstream record
At left: Hembree set a Gulfstream Park course record at 7 1/2 furlongs on turf in 1:27.06 in the El Prado. Coglianese Photography/Leslie Martin

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Three Diamonds Farm’s Hembree rallied from far back in the stretch to capture the $100,000 El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 9, setting a track record for 7 ½ furlongs on turf in the process. Hembree won a $145,000 allowance race on Sept. 19 at Kentucky Downs.

Trained by Kentucky Downs' career-leader Michael Maker, the Grade 2 stakes winner ran 7 ½ furlongs on a firm turf in 1:27.06, eclipsing the course record of 1:27.64 by Bow Tie Affair April 1, 2018. With Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, 5-2 second-choice Hembree swooped around rivals and surged through the stretch to win by a neck over 2-1 favorite Mr. Cub.

“As far back as he was, I thought he was in the clear down the lane. He had some time off after his last effort and had trained forwardly since, and he ran as we expected,” Maker said. “The two turns didn’t bother me, but I loved the 7 ½ distance. He was flying, and I thought for sure he’d get there. I felt confident coming off the turn.”

Hembree survived a claim of foul by Manoel Cruz, who checked Krampus in traffic in the stretch and finished fifth. Krampus’ trainer Bill Mott subsequently claimed foul against runner-up Mr. Cub.

Mr. Cub, who rallied late under Brian Hernandez Jr., finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Uncle B. but was disqualified and placed fifth for interfering with Krampus. Uncle B. was placed second, fourth-place finisher Cowboy Culture was placed third, while Krampus was placed fourth. Krampus finished fourth and Mr. Cub sixth in Kentucky Downs’ $750,000 Tourist Mile. Cowboy Culture finished ninth in Kentucky Downs’ $250,000 Old Friends Stakes.

Hembree returned to winning form after a pair of subpar showings in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Churchill Downs and the Nov. 24 Turf Sprint Championship at Aqueduct. He earned his shot at the Breeders' Cup by capturing Woodbine's Oct. 13 Nearctic Stakes (G2) at Woodbine five races after being claimed for $50,000 in April. The Nearctic came after his Kentucky Downs victory.

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Kentucky Downs' five-date meet is the most unique in America, offering record purses, the largest fields and low takeout to be ranked the No. 1 betting product by Horseplayers Association of North America. We are open year-round, seven days a week for simulcasting and historical horse racing, which we are proud to use as a means for bettering the entire Kentucky racing circuit.
Newsletter edited by publicity director Jennie Rees.