A SHORT HISTORY OF KENTUCKY DOWNS
By Dick Downey
Kentucky Downs is located just south of Franklin, Kentucky on the Tennessee border. These grounds were once known for duels of the human kind, the ones where they used guns. Sam Houston, egged on by Andrew Jackson, shot William White here in 1826.
Fast forward to the 1980's, and an effort developed to create a turf track to host steeplechase races.
After a contest for name suggestions won by a Franklin resident, the late Elizabeth Atwood, the track was dubbed Dueling Grounds. On April 22, 1990, with many state and local legal and regulatory hurdles cleared, the track opened for business with year-round simulcasting.
A day of steeplechase races in 1991 was the inaugural live event at Dueling Grounds. The track staged its first Thoroughbred flat race in 1992. In 1997, new owners renamed the track Kentucky Downs. In 2007, a group of investors led by Nashville businessman Ray Reid and former Lone Star Park president Corey Johnsen purchased a majority interest in Kentucky Downs. In 2011, Instant Racing devices were approved for play at Kentucky tracks by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and Kentucky Downs installed them. The venture was a success -- with one day during the 2012 meet canceled following rains, $2,066,344 was paid out for 43 races, which was a record. In 2013, Kentucky Downs paid out $4,121,142 in purses for 50 races, and in 2014, the track distributed almost $5 million in purses. In 2015 purses were $6.6 million for 48 races, and in 2016 purses totaled over $7.8 million. Purses include money from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.
The number of horses competing at Kentucky Downs consistently rose in line with enhanced purses, and in 2016 a total of 548 horses ran in 50 races for an average field size of 10.96, the largest in the United States.
The track is the only European-style turf course in North America, with an undulating kidney shape. Horses relish the turf course and the rural setting of the track. A county fair atmosphere makes for an easy-going, fun experience. There is no gate charge to patrons, and parking is free as well.