09/10/2003 11:00PM

Meet set to open at unique, turf-only track

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The transition from summer to fall marks something of a welcome tradition for intrepid fans of Kentucky racing. Road trips on southbound Interstate 65 from Louisville, Lexington, and other primary training bases have become commonplace at this time of year, as horses and horsemen converge on Kentucky Downs for a brief September meet at the turf-only track.

Another seven-day, 44-race meet begins Saturday at Kentucky Downs, the former Dueling Grounds, located just north of the Tennessee border near the south-central Kentucky town of Franklin. Although the meet is characterized mostly by an interesting mix of maiden, allowance, and middle-range claiming races, the highlight comes the second Saturday of the meet (Sept. 20) in the $500,000 Kentucky Cup turf series.

As usual, the weekend cards at Kentucky Downs will be limited to four races and interspersed with races from Turfway on a common simulcast signal. For opening day, Kentucky Downs will host races 2, 4, 6, and 8 on a 14-race card dominated by the Kentucky Cup dirt series from Turfway Park. Two of the Kentucky Downs races are $45,000 stakes to be run at one mile: the Yaqthan, for older males, and the Pleasant Temper, for fillies and mares.

Kentucky Downs will not race this Sunday but will run four races the following Sunday, Sept. 21. Eight-race cards will be run on the remaining four dates of the meet; those are Mondays and Tuesdays, during which Turfway is dark. The meet ends Sept. 23.

Kentucky Downs is unique to North America in that racing is conducted exclusively over a European-style course. Nearly 1 1/2 miles in circumference, the asymmetrical course has turns that are alternately sweeping and tight, and its undulating surface demands agility and acute awareness from its participants. Jockeys typically express a fondness for Kentucky Downs, if for no other reason than it challenges them and their mounts while representing a radical change from everyday experience.

Kentucky Downs is overseen by Bowling Green, Ky., businessman Brad Kelley, whose ownership interest in the track is 52 percent. Minority partners are Churchill Downs Inc. and Turfway, with 24 percent each.

Ryan Driscoll, formerly of Louisiana Downs, is in his third year as general manager of Kentucky Downs. Luke Kruytbosch, the voice of Churchill and other tracks, calls the races.

Purses for the four-race Kentucky Cup turf series have been lowered from the customary $700,000 level. Driscoll said the cuts were forced by overpayment of purses last year and insufficient off-season simulcasting business.

At a glance: Kentucky Downs

RACING SCHEDULE: 7 days; Saturday through Sept. 23; dark Sept. 14, 17, 18, 19

POST TIME: Weekends, 12:10 p.m. Central; weekdays, 1 p.m.

ADMISSIONS: General, $2; outdoor viewing areas and parking are free.

HIGHLIGHT: Kentucky Cup turf series of four stakes worth a total of $500,000 on Sept. 20.

LOCATION: Just off Interstate-65 exit 2 near Franklin, Ky., just north of the Tennessee state line.

PHONE: (270) 586-7778

INTERNET: www.kentuckydowns.com.