08/05/2011 1:21PM

Turfway Park: Kentucky Cup races keep their grades

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The announcement this week by Turfway Park president Bob Elliston that the track was reviving its Kentucky Cup races thanks largely to sponsorship from WinStar Farm came at a particularly important time for the series, considering the graded status of the races would have been lost if they were canceled for a second straight year.

Aside from its annual spring showcase, now known as the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes, Turfway had no other nationally recognized events after the decision was made last year to scrap the Kentucky Cup, which since its 1994 inception has produced seven Breeders’ Cup winners and has been contested by Kentucky Derby winners Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm, and Street Sense. For months, Elliston had been scrambling to find a way to bring back the series, so it was with considerable delight that he spoke Friday about the deal that came together.

All five Kentucky Cup races are being revived, led by the Grade 2, $200,000 Classic. The series is set for Sept. 24 at the Florence, Ky., track.

After the Classic, the other races are all $100,000 – the Grade 3 Distaff, Grade  3 Sprint, the Juvenile, and the Juvenile Fillies.

“It would’ve been extremely unfortunate to lose the grades on the three stakes that still had them,” said Elliston. “The timing was critical in getting this done for this year.”

Owing largely to the well-documented business woes that Turfway has endured for years, the two 2-year-old series were dropped after the 2008 runnings. The other three races remained for the 2009 program but were scrapped entirely last year.

Elliston said retaining a viable overnight purse structure for local horsemen for the rest of the fall meet, which runs Sept. 8 to Oct. 2, obviously was a key factor in striking “the right balance” in reserving so much purse money for the Kentucky Cup.

“We’ve had a good first six months of business this year, but it’s a balance we couldn’t have struck without the infusion we got from WinStar and without the work and cooperation of the horsemen, and for that we’re extremely appreciative,” said Elliston.

WinStar president Elliott Walden said in a release that the Versailles, Ky., farm is “committed to helping this industry that gives Kentuckians so much, and we felt like we wanted to get involved on this spectacular day.”

Elliston added that Turfway will evaluate whether to try to eventually bring back the Grade 3 Turfway Fall Championship, which will not be run this year as a means of accommodating the Kentucky Cup purses. He said he was dismayed that the race was not renewed as a Win and You’re In event by the Breeders’ Cup, even after Eldaafer won the Fall Championship and the BC Marathon last fall.

“I’m still scratching my head over that one,” he said.