05/09/2012 1:58PM

Churchill Downs: In Derby aftermath, entries are thinning out


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The first six days are easy. It’s the next 33 that will call on the resources that Ben Huffman, racing secretary at Churchill, can dig down and find.

Huffman and his staff will find the balance of the Churchill spring meet more challenging than they did the first week, when the Kentucky Derby and Oaks and all the supporting stakes and allowance events prove alluring to out-of-town and local horsemen alike.

A number of trainers who in prior years have raced exclusively at Churchill either have left altogether or have sent partial strings to race elsewhere – invariably tracks that benefit from slots-enriched purses – and although some new stables have filled those spots, on balance, the available number of horses that Churchill can use to fill races through the end of the meet, July 1, is down marginally, according to Huffman. Two years ago, Churchill went from a five-day race week to four days (Thursday-Sunday) in the spring, and the post-Derby norm has become 41 races per week.

“We’re working very hard on these entries,” said Huffman. “We have an outstanding racing office staff and take great pride on putting on quality cards. I hate painting a gloomy picture because I’m a very positive person, but you can’t help but notice that there are fewer horses for us to draw from. Indiana, Presque Isle, Arlington, and New York have all gotten some of the horses that would have been racing here in years past.”

The highlight of post-Derby is the Grade 1 Stephen Foster and its surrounding features on June 16, one of three remaining Saturday night programs. The stakes schedule hits a lull until the Louisville Handicap is run May 26; then comes three stakes on June 2 (night card) and four on the Foster program.