05/11/2011 1:53PM

Churchill Downs hopes twilight racing brings in non-racing crowd


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Night racing has become a phenomenon at Churchill Downs, where thousands of 20-somethings help ontrack attendance skyrocket when the lights are turned on. Churchill will host three night cards later in the meet (June 17, 24, July 1), but until then, a mini-version of the ultra-hip night themes will be tried out for the next five Fridays.

Eleven-race twilight programs will begin at 2:45 p.m. Eastern (as opposed to 6 for nights), with live bands, food and drink specials, and other forms of entertainment scheduled for later in the evening, even when racing has concluded around 8. General admission after 7 goes from $3 to $10, an overt sign that Churchill is spending money to retain the attractions that entice a younger crowd to turn out.

Only one allowance is carded for Friday the 13th, and owner-trainer Dale Romans is hopeful Honchis’n Ponchis can dip down from the stakes ranks for an overdue victory at what he calls “her favorite track.” Romans has opted for the $62,500 claiming option in what is otherwise a $53,500, second-level allowance at seven furlongs.

“Those wins she had here in the fall of 2009 were probably her two best races,” said Romans. “Her numbers say she hasn’t really regressed all that much from then, but she is a little older, and we need to get a win with her.”

Honchis’n Ponchis, with Miguel Mena riding from post 1, is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in a field of eight fillies and mares in the ninth race. Elusive Temper, drawn alongside in post 2, is among the chief threats.

Besides the nominal feature, two maiden special events (races 5 and 9) and a starter-allowance turf route (race 6) also are on tap Friday.

The level of horseplayer interest in the Friday card probably will hinge a great deal on what transpires Thursday at Churchill. With no winners on Derby Day in the $2 pick six or the $1 super high five, the respective carryover jackpots for those bets were $514,583 and $220,430 into Thursday. The pick six is held every day on the final six races, and the super high five is on the last race.

◗ There is a three-week gap in the stakes schedule this spring, with the first six-figure race since the Derby being the $100,000 Louisville Handicap on May 28. The feature this Saturday is the $63,000 Unbridled Sidney for filly and mare turf sprinters.