11/28/2011 3:03PM

Churchill Downs: Maker, Asmussen tie for trainer title


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Churchill Downs ended its 21-day fall meet Sunday with a tie for leading trainer between Steve Asmussen and Mike Maker.

Maker led Asmussen by a 15-14 count going into the 11-race finale. Asmussen won the eighth race with a 5-1 shot, and either man could have won the title outright when each had his final starter of the meet in the 10th race. But Twinspired finished a distant second for Maker and Joes Blazing Aaron was a tired fourth for Asmussen, leaving them deadlocked.

The title was the sixth in a row at a Churchill fall meet for Asmussen and his 11th here overall. For Maker, it was his only other Churchill title since he set a fall-meet record with 31 winners in 2008.

Julien Leparoux rode 34 winners to be the leading jockey for the fifth straight fall meet and for his ninth Churchill title overall. The 28-year-old Frenchman began his career in 2005.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey led all owners with 12, extending their Churchill record to 18 meet titles.

Meanwhile, the only business figure released was average field size during the meet. Field size for 200-plus races averaged 9.38, down from 9.76 from last year and the lowest at a fall meet since 2002. Company policy for the last few years for all Churchill Downs Inc. tracks has been to withhold attendance and handle figures.

Churchill president Kevin Flanery said in a release that “while the tone of the meet was largely positive,” the decline in field size “is a clear reason for concern.” Flanery cited “growing competitive pressures” from racinos, mentioning how the New York Racing Association tracks have become the latest to gain an edge over Kentucky tracks through purses enriched by alternative gaming revenues.

The fall meet was highlighted by the Nov. 4-5 Breeders’ Cup, in which Bill Mott, the all-time leading trainer at Churchill, swept the Ladies’ Classic and Classic. Asmussen also won two BC events en route to passing the 6,000-win milestone a couple of weeks later at Remington Park. Other high points were the large number of outstanding performances by 2-year-olds, including some on both Stars of Tomorrow programs, and a terrific closing weekend anchored by the 137th Clark Handicap, won by Wise Dan.Winners of the last two stakes of the meet on the Stars card Saturday were On Fire Baby, who earned just a 71 Beyer Speed Figure in taking the Grade 2 Golden Rod, and Gemologist, who got an 85 Beyer in taking the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club.

◗ Someone must have been watching from up above when Championship Gold ($7.80) splashed to a 4 3/4-length victory in the sixth race Sunday. The 2-year-old Pure Prize filly had been trained by Bob Holthus until the veteran trainer died Tuesday of heart failure at age 77. In his stead, Sal Guerrero, the longtime assistant to Holthus, was listed as trainer.

Hundreds of friends, family, colleagues, and other mourners turned out Saturday morning at the chapel in the Churchill stable area for a 45-minute memorial service for Holthus. Another service was scheduled for Monday in Hot Springs, Ark.

◗ A Diehl ($13), ridden by Freddie Lenclud, surged to a 1 1/4-length triumph in the closing-day feature, a $51,470 allowance at seven furlongs, as the longest shot in a field of five older horses. The victory capped what was a decent fall for Rusty Arnold, who is among the many Kentucky trainers headed soon to south Florida. Arnold won nine races at the Oct. 7-29 Keeneland meet and three more here.

◗ With Sunday marking the end of a meet, there were mandatory payouts on jackpot wagers. One winning ticket, worth $11,275, was sold on the last-race $1 super high five, even with just the first four finishers, while 4 of 6 was good enough in the $2 pick six, which netted $1,946.80 per winner from a pool of $13,932. Likewise, 4 of 5 was good in the 50-cent pick five, with a pool of $58,662 yielding winners of $1,357.40 apiece.

◗ Live action on the Kentucky circuit shifts Thursday evening to Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., where racing will be conducted for the next four months. Entries for the nine-race opener were to be drawn Tuesday.