By T. D. Thornton
Projected purse levels for maiden special weight (MSW) races on the Kentucky circuit in September and October will be $135,000 at Kentucky Downs, $125,000 at Churchill Downs, and $78,000 at Keeneland Race Course.
Those figures were revealed by representatives of those respective tracks Tuesday during a video meeting of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund (KTDF) advisory committee.
Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs' senior vice president and general manager, also said that his all-turf venue will also be raising non-stakes purses across the board by 8% from the amounts that were initially listed when the condition book for the September meet first came out in April.
Last year, Kentucky Downs carded $90,000 MSW races, but that money represented a 30% cut from 2019 because of lost-revenue circumstances related to the pandemic.
Bill Landes III, the chairman of the KTDF's advisory committee, who represents the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (KTOB), asked fellow advisory committee member Rick Hiles, the president of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, if he was okay with such a high purse value for Kentucky Downs horses winning a first career race.
“Well, I've had some concerns about getting [MSW purses] up too high [because I'm] afraid that the legislators are going to step in,” Hiles said, alluding to the potential that elected officials might think that's too much KTDF money to be giving away.
Hiles added that he has relayed that sentiment to Nicholson in the past and will do so again when they discuss the issue in the near future. “But, you know, we just have to go with the flow I guess,” he said.
“Ted, be careful,” Landes cautioned Nicholson.
Ben Huffman, who serves as both the director of racing at Churchill Downs and as the racing secretary at Keeneland, provided the figures for those two tracks. He added that Churchill's MSW purse figure is the expected “range” of money for right now, pending the finalization of the condition book for the September meet.
In 2020, Churchill offered split MSW purse values in September–$97,000 during the rescheduled GI Kentucky Derby week, then $75,000 for the balance of the month. Those numbers were also skewed by pandemic conditions that affected the generation of purse money.
Keeneland carded $70,000 MSW races in October 2020 after losing the entire April meet to COVID-19 and instead running during July.
During the Aug. 3 meeting, the committee unanimously approved all of the tracks' requests for KTDF funding, which means a recommendation from the advisory committee to release the money will be forwarded to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which votes on the actual disbursement at its next meeting.
The KTDF is funded by three-quarters of 1% of all money wagered on both live Thoroughbred races and historical horse race (HHR) gaming, plus 2% of all money wagered on Thoroughbred races via inter-track wagering and whole-card simulcasting.