Kentucky Horse Racetracks

There is no state more synonymous with horse racing than Kentucky, despite what New Yorkers, Marylanders, and Californians might say. The state is home to the world’s most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby. Each May, thousands flock to Louisville’s Churchill Downs for the annual “Run for the Roses.”

However, it does a great disservice to the other tremendous racetracks in Kentucky if we confine our understanding only to Churchill Downs. Kentucky is also home to several more important and prestigious tracks that would be the top tracks in almost any other state.

Read on for everything you need to know about Kentucky’s horse racetracks.

Top horse race tracks in Kentucky

Everyone knows about Churchill Downs and its famous twin spires. But there are a half-dozen other commercial racetracks in Kentucky that help make the state a top horse racing destination.

Here is an overview of all of Kentucky’s biggest horse racetracks.

Churchill Downs

  • Location: Louisville
  • Track debut: 1875
  • Top race: The Kentucky Derby
  • Other major races: Kentucky Oaks, Turf Classic Stakes
  • Track length: One mile
  • Seating capacity: 170,000
  • Simulcasting: Yes

The nation’s best-known racetrack began operating about a century-and-a-half ago. The first horse races ran at Churchill Downs in May 1875.

The track, initially seated on 80 acres of land in the Louisville area, was the brainchild of Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark. Clark had attended England’s Epsom Derby, left impressed, and decided to raise funds to open an American version of Epsom Downs.

These days, Churchill Downs is home to dozens of top races. In fact, in addition to the Kentucky Derby, there are eight other Grade I stakes races currently run under the twin spires. All told, Churchill Downs is home to almost 50 graded stakes races each year.

Ellis Park

  • Location: Henderson
  • Track debut: 1922
  • Top race: Ellis Park Derby
  • Other major races: Pucker Up Stakes
  • Track length: 1.125 miles
  • Seating capacity: 6,000
  • Simulcasting: No

Ellis Park Racing & Gaming is a smaller track that is growing in prestige and importance. It is a thoroughbred track home to several major races.

Ellis Park features a 1.125-mile-long dirt track that was initially designed to remind visitors of the venerable Saratoga Race Course in New York. It is owned and operated by Churchill Downs Incorporated, the racing juggernaut that owns the same-named track in Louisville (among others).

The top race at Ellis Park is unquestionably the Ellis Park Derby. It has become a big deal in recent years due to its status as a qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby. However, Ellis Park has also become the home of the Pucker Up Stakes, so the 100-plus-year-old track seems to be on the rise.


  • Location: Lexington
  • Track debut: 1936
  • Top race: Blue Grass Stakes
  • Other major races: Ashland Stakes, Turf Mile Stakes, Breeders’ Futurity Stakes
  • Track length: 1.0625 miles
  • Seating capacity: 8,799
  • Simulcasting: No

Churchill Downs is the most famous Kentucky racetrack, but Keeneland is the venue that many seasoned horse racing bettors and fans favor. In fact, Keeneland may be the superior track.

Keeneland is home to more than 40 graded races each year. Of the graded stakes races at Keeneland, a whopping 24 of them are Grade I races, the highest-rated races in all of thoroughbred racing. Out of those, 14 feature purses in excess of $1 million.

The most prestigious race that runs at Keeneland, the Blue Grass Stakes, is one of those $1-million-plus races. The race has bounced around the different grading classes since its inception in 1911, but it returned to Grade I in 2022. It is traditionally a warm-up race for the Kentucky Derby in May.

Kentucky Downs 

  • Location: Franklin
  • Track debut: 1990
  • Top race: Kentucky Turf Cup
  • Other major races: Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint Stakes, Mint Million
  • Track length: 1.3125 miles
  • Seating capacity: Not published
  • Simulcasting: Yes

Kentucky Downs is not in the same category in terms of prestige as Churchill or Keeneland, but there’s no mistaking the fact that Kentucky Downs has made an indelible mark on Kentucky horse racing. There are several quirks found at Kentucky Downs that you cannot find at other KY racing venues. In fact, there are very few other tracks in the nation that offer several of the features at Kentucky Downs.

For starters, Kentucky Downs does not feature an oval track, but rather a European-style track with sharp turns. It is also one of only two tracks in the country to feature a right turn for its thoroughbreds to negotiate. Kentucky Downs is entirely turf with no dirt track available on the site. Its length of more than 1.3 miles also makes it one of the longer tracks in the country.

Kentucky Downs is home to two Grade II stakes races: the Kentucky Turf Cup and the Kentucky Downs Sprint Stakes. A third race, the Mint Million, is ranked at Grade III but features a $1-million guaranteed purse. The site also features the Mint Gaming Hall, which features a large selection of historical horse racing machines (discussed below).

Turfway Park 

  • Location: Florence
  • Track debut: 1959
  • Top race: Jeff Ruby Steaks
  • Other major races: Bourbonette Oaks
  • Track length: 1 mile
  • Seating capacity: 1,200
  • Simulcasting: Yes

Turfway Park is a thoroughbred track located near Florence. It is also owned and operated by Churchill Downs, the dominant entity for horse racing in Kentucky.

Turfway Park does not maintain the same level of prestige or offer the same experience found at other Kentucky tracks. For one thing, as of 2020, it has eschewed the typical tiered seating system for a ballroom-like observation venue (which can be rented for weddings and the like). The site does, however, feature historical horse racing machines in addition to wagering on simulcast races.

Turfway Park is one of the few racetracks to use an artificial racing surface. It initially installed Polytrack, a silica-based product, back in 2005, and has since moved to a Tapeta surface. Perhaps ironically, there is no turf course at Turfway Park.

Turfway Park’s premier race is the Jeff Ruby Steaks, a Grade III race created by track founder John Battaglia. The Jeff Ruby serves as an important feeder race for the Kentucky Derby.

Oak Grove Racing & Gaming 

  • Location: Oak Grove
  • Track debut: 2020
  • Top race: Kentucky Sire Stakes
  • Other major races: n/a
  • Track length: 0.625 miles
  • Seating capacity: 800-3,650
  • Simulcasting: Yes

Oak Grove Racing & Gaming is the newest horse racing facility in Kentucky. The venue opened in 2020, becoming the second harness racing venue in the state. That said, Oak Grove has carved out a place for itself in a very short time.

Oak Grove is home to the Kentucky Sire Stakes, a race series that is partially funded by the Kentucky Standardbred Breeders’ Incentive Fund and Kentucky Standardbred Development Fund. These two funds, which are administered by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, help to bolster the purse total for the series all the way up to $3 million.

Oak Grove has also endeavored to be a full-service gaming resort. In addition to the track, there are simulcast facilities and historical horse racing machines. There is also a hotel, several restaurants and an entertainment amphitheater.

The Red Mile

  • Location: Lexington
  • Track debut: 1875
  • Top race: Kentucky Futurity
  • Other major races: Tattersalls Pace
  • Track length: 1 mile
  • Seating capacity: 6,000
  • Simulcasting: Yes

It is unlikely that there is a more prestigious harness racing track in the world than The Red Mile. For all the press that Churchill Downs receives, this Lexington-area sulky track is just as big of a deal for standardbreds.

The track opened in 1875. It is now the second-oldest harness track in the world and is named for its distinctive mile of red clay track.

The top race at The Red Mile is unquestionably the Kentucky Futurity. The Kentucky Futurity is harness racing’s Kentucky Derby analog and serves as the first leg of the Triple Crown for Trotters. The big race occurs during Grand Circuit week at The Red Mile, which also features the $400,000-purse Tattersalls Pace. You’ll also find historical horse racing machines at The Red Mile.

Top races at each Kentucky horse racing venue

TrackTop Race
Churchill DownsThe Kentucky Derby
Ellis ParkEllis Park Derby
KeenelandBlue Grass Stakes
Kentucky DownsKentucky Turf Cup
Turfway ParkJeff Ruby Stakes
Oak GroveKentucky Sire Stakes
The Red MileThe Kentucky Futurity

Types of wagers at Kentucky horse race tracks

Whether you are betting on live horse racing or simulcast races, at Kentucky race tracks or online, you are going to encounter the same types of wagers. Here is a brief rundown of the different ways to bet on horse racing.

Most wagers in horse racing concern the top three finishers in a race. The most popular “straight wagers” are bets on a single horse either to win (finish first), place (finish first or second) or show (finish first, second or third). You can also combine these bets in various ways, even betting all three and winning all three if the horse wins.

Then, “exotic wagers” offer ways to bet on multiple horses in the same race or individual horses in multiple races. These wagers are analogous to parlays in sports betting. Types of exotic wagers include exacta (a bet on the top two finishers in exact order), quinella (a bet on the top two finishers in any order), trifecta (a bet on the top three finishers in order) and superfecta (a bet on the top four finishers in order).

There are additional modifiers to these bets such as box, key and wheel. Other types of bets allow you to bet on winners in multiple races. These are called Pick 3 (betting on winners in three consecutive races), Pick 4 (betting on four winners), and so on. All of these wagers involving multiple outcomes are difficult to hit, but they generally pay out handsomely when they do.

Something else to keep in mind when you bet on horses in Kentucky (or anywhere else) is the nature of pari-mutuel wagering. Unlike fixed-odds betting (such as in traditional sports betting), pari-mutuel wagering presents odds that continually change as bets are placed, only locking in when the betting closes and the race begins.

That means the only odds that matter are those final odds, not the odds when you actually place your bet. You might bet on a horse to win at 5-to-1 odds, but by the time the race begins, the odds have fallen to 3-to-1. In that case, if your horse wins, you’ll get a 3-to-1 payout.

Read more about all the different wagers and how they work along with other horse betting tips on our Legal Horse Betting in Kentucky page. You can also check out our Beginner’s Guide to Horse Betting Online guide here.

What is historical horse racing (HHR)?

At several locations around Kentucky, you may notice an abundance of slot machines. Given Kentucky’s typical reticence toward gambling, you could be forgiven for wondering how these machines could possibly be legal.

As it turns out, what you are seeing are not technically slots, but historical horse racing (HHR) machines. These devices use a revolving library of past horse racing results to generate the outcome of each game. You can select horses if you like, but you’ll never have any information about the identity of the race until after it is over.

HHR machines usually contain a way to automate your handicapping procedure, which essentially means the machine will make the selections for you. When played that way, HHR machines resemble traditional slots even more.

That said, when you play HHR machines, you are still technically placing pari-mutuel wagers on horse races, a distinction that allows the machines to be legal in Kentucky while regular slots are not.

Historical horse racing machines have become especially popular in Kentucky. As of early 2023, there were nine different HHR sites across the state (with thousands of machines across these sites). During the 2022 fiscal year, $6.8 billion was wagered on historical horse racing in Kentucky with that total increasing markedly every year.

FAQ about Kentucky horse racetracks

Yes, horse racing and wagering on horses are fully legal in Kentucky. In fact, legal horse racing has been part of KY since before the state became a state. Reports vary, but it appears that horses first began racing around a Kentucky track in approximately 1790. They’ve been running ever since.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has that job. If you have any difficulties at a Kentucky racetrack, don’t hesitate to reach out to the KHRC.

You must be 18 or older to bet on the horses in KY. That is the same minimum age for playing the Kentucky Lottery and for sports betting in KY.

Yes, Kentucky was one of many states to allow online horse betting after an amendment to the Interstate Horse Betting Act in 2000. There are now several sites, including TVG, FanDuel Racing and TwinSpires, that take bets on races taking place both inside and outside of Kentucky.

Yes, there are more than a half-dozen simulcasting facilities throughout the state that provide off-track betting. Most of them are located at existing horse tracks and operate in tandem with the activities there. Simulcast locations in Kentucky include Churchill Downs, The Red Mile and Turfway Park.