Kentucky Downs, one of the biggest sleeper tracks in the country from a betting standpoint begins, its season on Sunday. With a six-day card, sleeping on the sleeper track means you’ll likely miss something from a wagering standpoint.

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The unique-to-America Kentucky Downs turf course offers the biggest pari-mutuel payouts of any US track. It begins its short, six-day meet starting on Sunday. (Image: Coady Photography)

Kentucky Downs offers the best pari-mutuel payouts of any track in the country, but don’t blink, lest you miss the six-day window offered by the boutique track located on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

The all-grass FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs opens on Sunday, Sept. 5, and Monday, Sept. 6. It then breaks for a day, resuming on Wednesday, Sept. 8, and Thursday, Sept. 9. It takes another day off on Friday, before winding up on Saturday, Sept. 11, and Sunday, Sept. 12.

That’s it. That’s all the time you have to capitalize on the strongest payouts of any American racetrack.

How strong, you ask?

Last year’s average $2 win ticket payout was $16.73. The average return for the $1 exacta was a healthy $65.32. For the 50-cent trifecta, it was $269.20. The 50-cent Pick 3 returned an average of $374.06 and the 50-cent Pick 5, an eye-watering $23,076.

Big purses produce big fields and big value

Because the 50-cent Pick 4 proved so popular last year — returning an average of $3,295 — Kentucky Downs added a third daily Pick 4.

“One of the highlights for handicappers and for fans is that you get this amalgamation of horses from different racing circuits around the country that you normally only get in a meet like the Breeders’ Cup,” Ken Kirchner, Kentucky Downs’ director of wagering development, said in a statement. “When you have more than $2 million a day in purses, not only are your stakes races this mix of New York, Kentucky, Florida, California, and other horses, you have that in the maiden and allowance races across the board. It’s just a fascinating exercise for the handicapper to say, ‘Gosh, I can find great value [in] every single race of this meet.’”

Kirchner knows of what he speaks. He was one of the architects behind the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and helped create the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

For Kentucky Downs, the wagering impresario created the 2021 King of the Turf Handicapping Challenge. The trio of two-day handicapping contests offers seats at the 2022 NHC to the top finishers. The top finishers in the last two contests earn seats in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

‘Royal Ascot meets county fair’ feel at Kentucky Downs

What makes Kentucky Downs such a good value play for horseplayers is the quality of Thoroughbreds and jockeys parachuting in for the six-day meet.

“I would almost equate this one-week meet at Kentucky Downs to Royal Ascot, where it is so unique in terms of the racing surface, the mix of horses and horsemen, (and) the top jockeys all coming in from around the country,” Kirchner said. “This has that Royal Ascot-meets-county fair-type feel at Kentucky Downs.”

Top jockeys like Southern California riding standout Umberto Rispoli, who rode for the first time at Kentucky Downs last year. Currently 14th in North American jockey earnings with more than $7 million to his credit, Rispoli is enjoying the best year of his career. So, he instructed highly respected agent Scotty McClellan to get him involved in this year’s meet.

McClellan dutifully complied. He told turf publicist Jennie Rees that he booked Rispoli and his 21% win rate on Belmont Gold Cup runner-up Fantasioso in the $1 million Grade 2 Calumet Turf Cup, and on Constantina in the $600,000 The Mint Ladies Sprint. Rispoli will ride the last four days of Kentucky Downs’ meet.

Rispoli finds a little bit of home at Kentucky Downs

Rispoli told Rees that the grassy track reminds him of tracks in his native Italy on which he captured numerous riding titles. Kentucky Downs is the only track of its kind in the US: a kidney-shaped, undulating, grass layout. And Rispoli laughed when he told the story about his first visit to the track, with fellow Southern California riding star Flavien Prat.

“We landed and go to visit the track right away,” Rispoli told Rees. “He turns into the street for the racetrack, and I said, ‘Where are we going?’ He said, ‘This is the track.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding? Well, it’s going to be fun.’ I wasn’t disappointed at all. I was laughing. I said ‘OK, it looks like home.’ In France, sometimes you’re driving for hours and you look on the side of the highway and you find the rails and you think, ‘Wow. I can’t believe there’s a racetrack here.’ So I wasn’t that shocked. But it was funny to approach the track, just watching it and seeing it for the first time.”