Big Races in Kentucky

Big Races in Kentucky

Even most people who don’t follow horse racing are aware of the Kentucky Derby, America’s most prestigious race held every year on the first Saturday in May at Louisville’s Churchill Downs. But with four major major tracks located in the Blue Grass state, Kentucky is also home to a number of other major and historic races on both dirt and turf. Whether you go to the track or do your wagering at your favorite OTB, there’s almost always a race going on somewhere in Kentucky.

Major Races in Kentucky

Whether you go to the track, do your wagering at your favorite OTB, or take advantage of the convenience of wagering through any of our top-rated online racebooks, there’s almost always a big race going on somewhere in Kentucky.

Kentucky Derby

The world famous “Run for the Roses”, the Kentucky Derby is restricted to three-year-old thoroughbreds going 1 1/4 miles on the Churchill Downs dirt track. As the first jewel , only the winner of the Derby has a chance to go on to claim the title as the year’s Triple Crown champion.

Kentucky Oaks

As the counterpart to the Derby, the Oaks is restricted to three-year-old fillies racing 1 1/8 miles also on the Churchill dirt, with a total purse of $1 million. The Oaks is always held on the Friday before the Derby, and the winner is presented with a blanket of lilies – “Lilies for the Fillies”.

Clark Handicap

The Clark Handicap is named for Merriweather Lewis Clark, grandson of the famed frontier explorer William Clark, and the founder of the Louisville Jockey Club, which built Churchill Downs. Held annually in late November or early December, the race is for horses three-years-old and up, going 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, and offers a purse of $500,000. 

Blue Grass Stakes

A Grade 1 event at Keeneland Race Course, the Blue Grass Stakes is held in April as one of the last major prep races for the Kentucky Derby, and is thus restricted to three-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles for a total purse of $750,000. Although in recent years the Blue Grass has lost some importance as the race was run on Keeneland’s polytrack surface, for 2015 Keeneland will be switching its main track back to dirt.

Kentucky Cup Turf Stakes

Also held in April on Kentucky Downs’ undulating turf course, this Grade 3 event is run over a gruelling 1 1/2 miles and offers a purse of $300,000. Open to horses three-years-old and up, the race has been run since 1998, and the winner is often later seen competing in the Breeders’ Cup Turf race.

Gardenia Stakes

The centerpiece of the Ellis Park summer racing calendar, the Gardenia Stakes is a Grade 3 race offering a purse of $100,000. Run over a distance of a mile on the Ellis Park dirt, the race is for fillies and mares aged three-years-old and up. The race is named after the flower that comprises the winner’s blanket.