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Deep Fields for Turfway Park Opener Dec. 2

The Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) gets a purse hike for 2022 and is run April 2.

Horses break from the gate at Turfway Park

Horses break from the gate at Turfway Park

Coady Photography

Thoroughbred racing on the Kentucky circuit shifts from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., to its sister track Turfway Park, 94 miles to the northeast in Florence, beginning Dec. 2 for the 16-day Holiday Meet. 

Eighty-five horses and seven also-eligibles were entered for the eight-race opening night program, topped by an allowance optional claiming race with a $64,000 purse for Kentucky-breds.

The Holiday Meet covers a five-week stretch every Thursday-Sunday through Friday, Dec. 31 with the exception of no racing on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) or Christmas Day (Dec. 25). The first of eight races every Thursday-Saturday is 6:15 p.m. ET. Sunday's eight-race programs will start at 1 p.m. Only seven races will be staged on New Year's Eve (Dec. 31). 

Following the Holiday Meet, Turfway will commence its 38-day Winter Meet on Jan. 1, which will continue for 14 weeks through Saturday, April 2—the new date for its marquee race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles now worth $600,000, a $350,000 boost from the 2021 renewal.

The Jeff Ruby Steaks, which offers 170 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (top four points: 100-40-20-10), is the centerpiece of a revitalized stakes program. Turfway Park, owned by Churchill Downs Inc., will present 24 stakes events—four during the Holiday Meet and 20 during the Winter Meet—that total $3.55 million. Each is worth a minimum of $100,000 and there will be at least one stakes race carded weekly. Fourteen of the stakes have been brought back from an extended hiatus. 

In addition to the Jeff Ruby Steaks, the $125,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 5 will offer 17 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (10-4-2-1). The $250,000 Bourbonette on April 2, now 1 1/16 miles, and $125,000 Cincinnati Trophy, now one mile, March 5 will offer qualifying points for 3-year-old fillies on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks (100-40-20-10 and 10-4-2-1, respectively).

A total of six stakes cumulatively worth $1.7 million highlights the Jeff Ruby Steaks Day card on closing day, which falls five weeks in advance of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).

Scenics - Turfway Park - Opening Day - 120220
Photo: Coady Photography
Horses race into the turn at Turfway Park

Horsemen will compete for $4,974,000 (all purses include prize money from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund) offered in director of racing Tyler Picklesimer's 127-race Holiday Meet condition book. Maiden special weight races are worth $62,000 and allowance races range from $63,000-$68,000. Purses in Kentucky have been bolstered by historical horse racing gaming revenue.

The average starters per race during last year's Holiday Meet was 10.5, which produced highly competitive racing over the track's newly installed Tapeta synthetic surface. 

Gerardo Corrales is back to defend his Holiday Meet and Winter Meet riding titles from a year ago. He won 15 races during the Holiday Meet and another 40 at the Winter Meet.

There will be several new additions to the jockey colony, including journeyman riders Joe Rocco Jr. and Joe Talamo. Rafael Bejarano and Chris Landeros are other leading jockeys riding at Turfway this winter.

"I'm excited to stay home this winter," said Talamo, who shifted his tack from California to Kentucky in 2020. "I've been trying out different winter gloves and scarves to get ready for the winter in Kentucky. With the purse money that keeps going up at Turfway, I think it was a good decision to stay home."

Bill Morey was the 2020 Holiday Meet leading trainer with six wins, while Wesley Ward dominated the 2021 Winter Meet trainer standings with 21 wins, nine more than Morey. In addition to Morey and Ward, trainers Brad Cox, Tommy Drury Jr., Mike Maker, Michael McCarthy, and Mike Tomlinson are slated to have Turfway divisions this year.

"We'll mainly be based at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn this winter but we'll have a few horses that we keep in Kentucky to run at Turfway," Cox said.

Turfway's frontside facility—scheduled to open in the summer after being torn down and rebuilt—remains under construction, leaving simulcasting and at-home wagering as leading options for playing the track's races. Turfway Park's wagering menu will feature a 15%-takeout, 50-cent Pick 5 that starts in Race 1 each night as well as the 15%-takeout, 20-cent Single 6 Jackpot on Races 3-8. Also, there are two 14%-takeout, 50-cent Pick 4 sequences on each card with the first offered on Races 2-5 and the second on Races 5-8.

Jimmy McNerney will announce the racing action throughout the Holiday and Winter Meet.