There are three races coming up on Saturday that will significantly impact the Kentucky Derby field. All of them award points on a 100-40-20-10 scale and it's likely that the top two finishers in each race will earn invitations to the first Triple Crown race that will be run this year on May 1.
Turfway Park track surface
Joining the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida, and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai is the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park. The track is located about 10 miles from Cincinnati in Florence, Kentucky.
It sports a synthetic track that is considered safer and is also more weather-resistant than traditional dirt surfaces.
The Polytrack product originally installed in 2005 was replaced by a Tapeta Footings surface prior to Turfway's Holiday meet that began in December 2020. Churchill Downs is the owner of Turfway Park and is one of its three tracks to utilize synthetic track surfaces.
The installation of synthetic surfaces has been attributed to reduced racing injuries and deaths of thoroughbreds. In particular, Tapeta uses a composite material that is designed to more closely simulate the texture of turf. The drainage method that can be incorporated beneath the surface also allows for quick drying of the track.
With mostly dry racing surfaces, the freezing and thawing cycles during a winter meet that Turfway runs have minimal impact on the condition of the track. The races at Turfway are always contested on tracks that are categorized as fast, regardless of the weather, which can often be cold and wet in northern Kentucky.
Track history and schedule
Turfway Park began operation in 1959, originally named Latonia Race Course after a facility that operated as Latonia Race Track in Covington, Kentucky, from 1883 to 1939. The track has undergone many transfers of ownership, the latest coming with the purchase by Churchill Downs, Inc. in October 2019. The current name has been used since 1986 following one of its many ownership changes.
The track hosts a pair of meets during the year, with the Holiday meet running during the month of December and the Winter/Spring meet beginning in January and ending in late March or early April. The Jeff Ruby Steaks is its top stakes offering, with a purse of $250,000 in 2021.
It also hosts another Kentucky Derby prep race, the John Battaglia Memorial, that awards qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 scale. The race was contested on February 26, with Hush of a Storm coming home in first place. Hush of a Storm is expected to be joined by the three other top four Battaglia finishers in the Jeff Ruby Steaks.
There are likely to be other top Kentucky Derby contenders in the race, including Moonlite Strike and Tarantino, who have both collected qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The field will be finalized later in the week, with early odds established at the same time.