Updated on 09/16/2011 6:37AM

Botts, Churchill racing secretary, eulogized


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jerry Botts was remembered Saturday as a consummate professional who lived the last 16 years of his life working at his dream job as racing secretary at Churchill Downs.

Botts, who died Jan. 1 after having been diagnosed with lung and liver cancer just several days beforehand, was eulogized at a 40-minute memorial service by John Asher, a fellow vice president at Churchill. Although Botts, who was 54, was never married and had no children, he nevertheless was a "family man," said Asher.

Botts, a Tennessee native, is survived by his mother, two sisters, a brother, and several nieces and nephews. Despite the countless hours he spent leading Churchill back to prominence after becoming racing secretary in 1985, Botts "remained particularly close to all of them," said Asher.

Similarly, Botts was a major figure in the extended Churchill family, said Asher. "The people he worked with were his closest friends," said Asher.

Growing up in the Churchill neighborhood, Botts became boyhood pals with Donnie Richardson, who now oversees racing operations for all Churchill-owned racetracks.

Besides being a stickler for detail and an expert at writing races, Botts was widely regarded as "fair, above all," said Asher, in his dealings with horsemen. When Botts became racing secretary in 1985, Churchill's quality of racing was widely regarded as far below that of Southern California and New York. But in recent years, with per-day purses averaging about $450,000, Churchill is now among the top tracks in North America.

Kentucky chief steward Bernie Hettel, who worked for nearly 30 years with Botts, said last week that Botts's death "is an enormous loss for Kentucky racing. It truly is. The work he did behind the scenes is the kind of thing that hardly anyone notices but was incredibly important in making racing at Churchill what it is today."

The memorial service, held less than a mile from Churchill at O.D. White Funeral Home, was attended by several hundred people, including virtually every top official from both Churchill's corporate and racetrack companies. Among the out-of-town visitors were longtime colleagues Terry Meyocks of the New York Racing Association, Frank Gabriel Jr. of Arlington Park, and Howard Battle of Keeneland.

Although there has been no official word on who will replace Botts, some preliminary discussions have centered on whether it will take two people to assume his many duties. The Churchill spring meet starts April 27.