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Audubon Oaks becomes Kentucky Oaks points race, joins Ellis Park Derby on road to Churchill classics


Ellis Park not only has the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby as a qualifying race for the rescheduled Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby, but the track’s $100,000 Audubon Oaks is now a stop on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. Both stakes races are Aug. 9.

Ellis Park’s 98th annual meet will run from July 2 through Aug. 30.

This year’s Ellis Park Derby winner will receive 50 points, virtually ensuring a spot in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby under Churchill Downs’ tiered system of qualifying races. Also earning points from the 1 1/8-mile race will be the runner-up (20), third place (10) and fourth (5).

The seven-furlong Audubon Oaks, back on the Ellis Park stakes schedule after an 11-year hiatus, will offer a total of 17 points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers toward making the Sept. 4 Kentucky Oaks’ 14-filly field.

Chester Thomas’ Mr. Big News won the April 11 Oaklawn Stakes under Gabe Saez in his last start and could be a horse for the Ellis Park Derby. (Coady Photography)

“We cannot thank Churchill Downs enough for including the Audubon Oaks as one of its additions to the Kentucky Oaks points races,” said Ellis Park general manager Jeff Inman. “This is a huge and obviously historic opportunity for Ellis Park to have official prep races for the Derby and Oaks. We decided to bring the Audubon Oaks back off the shelf this year and being on the Kentucky Oaks schedule is a great way to welcome it back.

“We assume we will get horses trying to secure a spot in the Derby or Oaks, in addition we think our stakes are also positioned perfectly for horses who already have qualified but could benefit from a tune-up four weeks out. Trainers can stay put in Kentucky from now through the Derby and beyond, with the Breeders’ Cup being at Keeneland this year. We’re an easy ship from Churchill Downs, Keeneland and the state’s training centers. With one of the best racing surfaces in the country, Ellis Park offers a convenient way to get in that final prep without the stress of significant travel.”

The Ellis Park Derby falls four weeks after Keeneland’s Toyota Blue Grass and 4 1/2 weeks after Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby. The Audubon Oaks offers similar spacing from Keeneland’s Ashland Stakes and Beaumont, as well as the Indiana Oaks.

Ellis Park has a tie to the past two winners of the Kentucky Oaks, with 2019 winner Serengeti Empress taking the 2018 Ellis Park Debutante and 2018 heroine Monomoy Girl training all summer at Ellis before launching her 2-year-old career.

The Ellis Park Derby could be a stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby for Lloyd Madison Farms’ Major Fed, whose next start will be either the Blue Grass or the Indiana Derby, said trainer Greg Foley, who added that the Audubon Oaks could be a good fit for his filly Sconsin, a recent Churchill Downs allowance winner at 19-1 odds.

“I think it will be great for Ellis Park,” said the Louisville-based Foley. “Those people down there, they love that racing. It’s sure coming in handy for them, the weird year we having. There will be people showing up for those points, and it’s a great, safe racetrack. Those will probably come up pretty tough races.”

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Brad Cox, a two-time leading trainer at Ellis Park, is among those welcoming the additions. Cox said that Godolphin Racing’s Shared Sense, who finished second in a second-level allowance race June 13, and Rupp Racing’s recently gelded Shake Some Action could be candidates for the Ellis Park Derby. Flurry Racing Stables’ Shedaresthedevil, an impressive Churchill Downs allowance winner on June 5, could be a possibility for the Audubon Oaks, he said.

“It’s good money,” Cox said of the Ellis Park Derby. “It’s an opportunity they’re giving us, and I’m hoping to have something for it.”

Owner Chester Thomas of Madisonville also hopes to participate in the Ellis Park Derby at what he considers his hometown track. One possibility could be the Bret Calhoun-trained Mr. Big News, winner of the April 11 Oaklawn Stakes at 46-1 odds in his last start.

“As someone who has been going to Ellis Park my entire life, I’m unbelievably excited about the track having a Kentucky Derby prep — although I’m hoping these are once-in-a-lifetime circumstances and we never have to deal with a coronavirus again,” said Thomas, a two-time Ellis Park leading owner. “But it’s a great opportunity to have Derby contenders coming to Ellis Park, and hopefully we can have something in the Ellis Park Derby starting gate and, even better, in the winner’s circle.”

From Ellis Park


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