09/15/2005 12:00AM

Six-card, all-turf meet opens


Every day along Interstate I-65, thousands of cars and trucks roar past Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., never bothering to stop at the all-turf racetrack that sits along the highway and the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Now is the time to hit the brakes. Beginning Saturday, and continuing for six racing days over the subsequent nine days, Kentucky Downs is expected to offer deep, competitive grass racing, in its own unique, fair-like environment.

The highlight of the meet comes Sept. 24 with the $450,000 Kentucky Cup Turf Festival. Saturday's card is merely an appetizer, though a good one. The four-race card - which is interspersed with the Kentucky Cup card at Turfway Park - includes a full field running in the $40,000 Pleasant Temper Stakes.

Stakes winners Singit and Rhythm in Shoes headline the race, a mile stakes race for fillies and mares, with Rhythm in Shoes perhaps holding an edge because of familiarity with the course. Two years ago, in a race that is no longer visible in the past performances, she won her only start over the European-style Kentucky Downs turf course by five lengths. Perry Ouzts rides for trainer Bill Connelly.

Absent from the opening day card this year is the Yaqthan Stakes, which has been moved to Kentucky Cup Turf Day to take the place of the Kentucky Cup Mile. The move was necessitated by poor simulcast handle in the off-season, said Ryan Driscoll, general manager for Kentucky Downs.

The cut in the stakes schedule allowed Kentucky Downs to keep overnight purses at the same level as last year, Driscoll said. A total of $1.3 million in purse money will be paid out over the 44-race meet, with straight maiden races, for example, carrying a $25,000 purse.

Entries for opening day were strong, although not as brisk as in past years, making Driscoll question if the track could match its average field size of 10.4 horses from last year. He speculated that some horsemen's uneasiness with the changing medication rules in Kentucky was responsible.

The track's handle might also take a hit. Driscoll said that California will not simulcast Kentucky Downs races on Tuesday, as it did last year, and some key offtrack betting locations in and around the New Orleans area are not operating following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Driscoll remains upbeat regarding ontrack attendance. He said he expects the track's tailgate area on Kentucky Cup Turf Day to "look like College Gameday." Saturday's opening-day card should also be well-attended, bolstered by a baseball cap giveaway for the first 1,000 patrons.

At a glance: Kentucky Downs

RACING SCHEDULE: Six days over a 10-day period, beginning Saturday and ending Sept. 27. Racing on Saturdays, Mondays, and Tuesdays.

POST TIME: Saturdays, 12:10 p.m. Central; weekdays 1:45 p.m.

ADMISSIONS: Saturdays, clubhouse is $3; weekdays, clubhouse is $2; outdoor viewing areas are free every day.

HIGHLIGHT: The $450,000 Kentucky Cup Turf Festival, featuring four stakes on Saturday, Sept. 24.

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

PHONE: (270) 586-7778

INTERNET: www. kentuckydowns.com