09/04/2013 2:03PM

Churchill Downs-Kentucky Downs doubleheader for eight riders via air shuttle

Barbara D. Livingston
Rosie Napravnik is among eight jockeys who will ride in stakes at Kentucky Downs and Churchill Downs within a short time span Saturday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The dilemma of jockeys trying to ride in the rich stakes Saturday at both Kentucky Downs and Churchill Downs when the tracks conduct overlapping programs is being addressed in a familiar way: by air.

Eight jockeys are booked on a charter plane that will originate in Louisville, land at a small airstrip in Tennessee near Kentucky Downs, then return in time for the latter half of the Downs After Dark program at Churchill.

Jockey agent Terry Miller was busy Wednesday with finalizing the logistics of the trip.

“We’re hoping they can be back to ride the sixth at Churchill,” said Miller.

The jockeys on the flight will be Rosie Napravnik, Alan Garcia, Miguel Mena, Leandro Goncalves, Jesus Castanon, Corey Lanerie, Joe Rocco Jr., and Jon Court.

Kentucky Downs not only will run three stakes worth $150,000 each, but also has lucrative purses earlier on a 10-race card. The stakes are carded as races 7-9, and with first post set for 1:35 p.m. Central, the last stakes, the Kentucky Cup Ladies Marathon, will be run at about 5:35 (or 6:35 Eastern).

Churchill will run four stakes Saturday night as races 6-9 with purses ranging from $100,000 to $150,000. The 11-race card begins at 6 p.m. Eastern, so if all goes well, the jockeys might make it to Churchill in time for the first stakes, the Pocahontas (post 8:30).

The drive time between the two tracks is about two hours, whereas time in the air is only expected to be about 30 minutes, said Miller. The private plane is owned by Ron Geary, the Louisville businessman who has owned Ellis Park since 2006.

“He’s cutting us a real good deal on the price,” said Miller.

Although charters are quite common for jockeys trying to ride at more than one track in a day, this is the first time such an arrangement has been necessitated for jockeys attempting to ride at both Churchill and Kentucky Downs because this is the first time the tracks have ever shared the same race date.

Competition from football

One of the concerns about attracting fans and gamblers to Churchill during the new September meet is conflicts with football, including high-school games on Friday evenings. And then there’s the NFL on Sundays, although “we’ve always had that situation with pro football during our traditional fall meet,” noted Churchill spokesman John Asher.

The NFL is so strong that some tracks don’t even attempt to race on Sundays any longer, such as Laurel Park (up against Ravens and Redskins games) and Kentucky Downs (Titans).

Saturdays also can be tricky vis-a-vis college football, although Churchill stands to benefit this Saturday night by attracting University of Louisville fans after they attend the afternoon game against Eastern Kentucky at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Next Saturday, Sept. 14, will present a major conflict when Churchill runs an afternoon card against the Louisville-at-Kentucky game.

New trainer working for Rigneys

Phil Bauer, a key employee for Ken McPeek for the last five years, has begun training privately for Richard and Tammy Rigney under the stable name of Rigney Racing.

Bauer, 28, currently has four horses at Churchill for the Rigneys, who own a beverage-flavoring business. Among their active horses is Our Double Play, a 3-year-old who has won 3 of 9 starts and runs in the name of JCM Racing. All future acquisitions will compete under Rigney Racing, said Bauer.

Bauer said the Rigneys intend to gradually expand the stable through yearling purchases and possibly by claiming.

Filly challenges males

With Excellence will try male rivals again when one of the favorites Friday in the meet opener at Churchill, a one-mile starter-allowance. The 4-year-old With Excellence drubbed male rivals in her most recent start at Ellis Park.

“They run fillies against the boys all the time in Europe,” said trainer Phil Thomas Jr. “Her races hadn’t been filling, so I said, ‘Why not?’ ”

With Excellence will be ridden again by Ashley Broussard, a 21-year-old apprentice who notched her first career victory aboard the filly in that race last month at Ellis.

◗ Trainer Paul McGee will be wearing a back brace for an indefinite period after suffering a compression fracture of his L-2 vertebra in a harrowing fall from the roof of his house Sunday in Louisville. McGee, 51, missed the last several days of training at Churchill and was scheduled to see orthopedic and spine specialists this week.

◗ Sam Auerbach of Staten Island, N.Y., won first prize of $115,000 last weekend in a handicapping contest at Ellis in western Kentucky. With total prizes of more than $292,000, Ellis officials claim “The BIG One” contest is the richest known handicapping contest at a U.S. racetrack not held in conjunction with the Breeders’ Cup.

◗ Glenn Thompson was honored with a blanket presentation on the closing-day card Monday at Ellis for his remarkable tenure as track superintendent and lifelong employee. Thompson, 77, has worked at Ellis for more than 60 years.