09/15/2014 1:44PM

Kentucky Downs crushes single-day handle record

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Shannon Hargis
Off-site wagering helped shatter the Kentucky Downs single-day handle record with an all-sources total of $4,253,567.

FRANKLIN, Ky. – Dick Downey is a Bowling Green magistrate and racing blogger who makes a habit of attending the races at Kentucky Downs whenever possible. Downey periodically monitored a colorful ontrack scene Saturday, the biggest day of the annual September meet, and kept saying the same thing.

“They’ve got a really nice crowd today,” he said.

While Instant Racing machines whirred indoors, perhaps a couple thousand fans (admission is free and not tallied) milled about the spacious grounds in cool late-summer weather while clearly enjoying a 10-race card that culminated with four straight stakes. Patiently abiding long lines at the 12 outdoor mutuel windows (plus a handful of self-service terminals), those fans were just the tip of a betting iceberg, as off-site wagering helped shatter the Kentucky Downs single-day handle record with an all-sources total of $4,253,567.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Kentucky Downs publicist C.J. Johnsen. “It shows how customers will respond when you give them a product they want.”

For comparison, the Kentucky Downs handle Saturday surpassed that at Churchill Downs ($3.1 million) and the Thoroughbred card at Los Alamitos ($3.9 million). The former Kentucky Downs handle record was set on closing day last year, a Wednesday when $3,371,476 was wagered on a 13-race card.

Opening day of the five-day Kentucky Downs meet was the previous Saturday (Sept. 6), when Churchill ran four stakes and more than doubled the Kentucky Downs handle ($5.3 million to $2.6 million).

The Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) has repeatedly touted Kentucky Downs as a favorite among bettors with its huge fields and the lowest takeout in North American racing: 16 percent for win-place-show, 18.25 percent for exactas, 14 percent for the pick five, and 19 percent for all other exotic wagers.

Most KTDF bonuses paid

Total purses for the four Saturday stakes at Kentucky Downs were billed as $1.2 million, but half of that amount was in Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund bonuses.

Those bonuses mostly were paid out, with the major exception being in the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup, the only graded race of the meet. The race was won by Suntracer, an Illinois-bred 6-year-old. The Turf Cup purse was $600,000, but only if all the KTDF money was paid out.

“It amounted to a $300,000 purse for us, but he was born and raised in Illinois, and I’m as proud as can be about that,” said Chris Block, the Chicago-based veteran who trains Suntracer for his family’s stable, Team Block.

Total purses paid for the four stakes amounted to $944,000. The Turf Cup purse was $347,400, with $176,700 to Suntracer.