Kentucky Downs has just completed a major renovation of its turf course–its first since the track was laid out in a field as a steeplechase course in 1990. The project involved nearly half of the 1 5/16-mile kidney-shaped course. A swath five-eighths of a mile long and 63-feet wide around the far turn and into the stretch was replaced with sod featuring a blend of 90% Kentucky 31 fescue and 10% Kentucky bluegrass. Kentucky 31, named for the state and year it was discovered (in this case, in 1931 by a University of Kentucky professor), is noted for its deep roots, resilience and disease resistance–all considered critical with the wear and tear of turf racing.
The project was overseen by track consultant Butch Lehr who spent 30 years as superintendent at Churchill Downs where he built the track's turf course in 1985. Iron Bridge Sod Farms of nearby Bowling Green provided and installed the sod for the Kentucky Downs course.
“Obviously we face unique challenges with the Kentucky Downs course, racing exclusively on grass and with our unusual configuration and elevation variances,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs' Vice President for Racing. “Over the years, Kentucky Downs made improvements to the course, but this is the most ambitious overhaul we've had. Safety is the number one priority. With Kentucky Downs now having six race dates compressed into eight calendar days, we want to ensure we have a course that is of high quality and safe for horses and riders throughout the meet.
“We're thrilled with how it's turned out. We were able to put down the sod during Kentucky's amazing November weather and feel confident that the course will be spectacular for our 2021 meet. In addition, we will be installing a new rail system that will allow for four racing lanes throughout the six dates.”