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Furthest Land won the 2009 Kentucky Cup Classic.
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Mathea Kelley

Efforts Continue to Restore Kentucky Cup

Efforts continue to restore the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions at Turfway Park.

Efforts to restore the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions at Turfway Park in September are ongoing, but the return of the stakes program could hinge on sponsorships.

Declines in pari-mutuel revenue led Turfway to reduce the 2009 Kentucky Cup to three races from five, and in 2010, the entire event was put on the shelf. If the races aren’t run this year, however, three of them will lose their graded status under American Graded Stakes Committee policy.

Turfway chief financial officer Cliff Reed on June 8 told the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund advisory committee the objective is to bring the stakes back in 2011, and that a final decision would have to be made by mid-July.

In the past, some of the purse money for Kentucky Cup has come from the KTDF.

“We’re still trying to figure out if we can bring Kentucky Cup back in some form or not,” Reed said. “We’re not prepared to make final (funding) requests. It’s necessary to discuss it with the horsemen and potential sponsors, if there are any. There are still a couple of things in play.”

After its winter/spring meet this year Turfway had a $350,000 surplus in the KTDF, which pays purse supplements to Kentucky-registered horses in maiden special weight and allowance races, as well as some stakes. Reed said projections indicate the track could have a $200,000 surplus after the 2012 winter/spring meet, but that will hinge on pari-mutuel handle.

Thoroughbred breeder Bill Landis, a member of the KTDF advisory committee, said he wouldn’t oppose using some KTFD money to help restore Kentucky Cup.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said horsemen are open to discussing the Kentucky Cup but that sponsorship money may be critical to its return. He indicated it’s not feasible to take money from overnight purses, which currently struggle to average $120,000 a day at Turfway.

Kentucky Cup was inaugurated in 1994 as a local springboard to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. In 2009 the Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II), with its purse cut from $350,000 to $200,000, was won by Furthest Land, who went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park that year.

The other two Kentucky Cup races held in 2009 were the Sprint and Distaff (both gr. III). The two 2-year-old stakes, both ungraded, were last run in 2008.

Suspension of the event left a big hole in the Turfway stakes schedule, which last year consisted of one race—the grade III Turfway Fall Championship—in September. That Polytrack event, however, was won by Eldaafer, who came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Marathon (gr. III) on dirt at Churchill Downs.

In March of this year at Turfway, the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) was won by Animal Kingdom , who a little more than a month later won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at Churchill.

Turfway president Bob Elliston recently said Animal Kingdom’s Derby victory was a “source of resiliency” for the track and its employees given financial difficulties and claims by some that Triple Crown preps on synthetic surfaces carry little weight.

Elliston said that “pound for pound horses that prep for major races have done exceptionally well coming to Turfway,” another reason the Kentucky Cup is so important.

“It’s a priority for us to make a determination—three graded stakes, if they’re not run, would lose their grading,” Elliston said.

Last year only five stakes were offered in Kentucky from the close of the Churchill Downs spring meet in early July to the opening of the Keeneland fall meet in early October. There were no 2-year-old stakes during that period, a situation not lost on KTDF advisory committee members.

“A lot of people are concerned they have to go elsewhere to run their 2-year-olds,” said Dr. David Richardson, a Thoroughbred breeder who chairs the KTDF advisory committee.

Ellis Park in western Kentucky a few years back also dropped two 2-year-old stakes. Track general manager Bob Jackson said there’s not enough purse money available to restore the stakes, but that they would return to the schedule should Ellis Park get Instant Racing or alternative gaming to boost purses.