06/29/2012 2:21PM

Churchill Downs notes: Track superintendent Lehr ends 40-plus-year career on backstretch

Churchill Downs
Butch Lehr has been Churchill’s track superintendent since 1982.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Butch Lehr was cleaning out his desk Friday morning when he started to feel the weight of reality setting in. Lehr, 63, will work as a full-time employee at Churchill Downs for the last time Sunday night, ending a remarkable tenure of more than 40 years, including the last 30 as track superintendent.

“I’ve had the last few days to really think about it, and I’m going to miss it, that’s for sure,” he said.

Raymond V. “Butch” Lehr began working at Churchill in 1967, and except for a two-year stint in the Army, he has worked continuously on the backstretch in all that time since. He was promoted in 1982 to replace Thurman Pangburn as superintendent and is one of just three men over the last century to hold the position.

“I’m pretty proud of that,” he said. “I’m also pretty proud that I’m going out with everything in good shape, even with all the things we’ve had thrown at us [in regard to weather] this last meet. People who’ve never been here, I think they’d maybe be in awe of what goes on here on an everyday basis.”

Lehr long has commanded the respect of horsemen throughout the United States and beyond for his diligence in keeping the Churchill surfaces among the best in the country. He said he has had ample chances to move elsewhere, but has always been happy at Churchill, where he departs as the longest-tenured full-time employee. Widely regarded as a true expert in the field of racetrack maintenance, he will not lack for opportunities for additional income in the coming years, if he so chooses.

“I’ve got offers to pursue some consulting work, and I’m sure I’ll do some of that,” he said. “But if I wanted to work full time, I wouldn’t be leaving Churchill. In the short term, I’ll probably try to change my lifestyle, maybe get more fit and get rid of some of the stress. I’m just going to try to give up these long hours.”

Lehr joked that the switch to night racing for the last three days of the spring meet meant that on Sunday, his final day, “they’re piling on six more hours of overtime before I can get out of here.”

On a more serious note, he said: “What I’m going to miss most are all the people I’ve worked with. That part is going to be a little tough.”

And in summarizing his career, he said: “I think I’m a testament to the fact that if you’re willing to work hard, you’ll be given the opportunity to succeed.”

Churchill had planned to honor Lehr at a dinner following the races Sunday, but with the switch to a night card, “I’m sure we’ll have something nice and appropriate for Butch sometime during the fall meet,” track spokesman John Asher said.

Lanerie set for first Churchill title

Corey Lanerie will end the meet Sunday as easily the leading rider, marking the first Churchill title for the 36-year-old Louisiana native. Lanerie entered the final three days of action with a 66-40 lead over Shaun Bridgmohan, his closest pursuer atop the standings. Lanerie will spend the next couple of months riding primarily at Ellis Park, although “we’ve got quite a bit of stakes business lined up for most weekends,” said his agent, Terry “Jaws” Miller.

The races for leading trainer and owner were much tighter, although it looked like Dale Romans and the Midwest Thoroughbreds had a decided edge in those respective categories.

Romans, with 18 wins, led Tom Amoss (16) and Steve Asmussen (14) going into Friday and had the most scheduled starters (19) of any trainer for the final three-day stretch (Asmussen had 16, Amoss only five).

Likewise, Midwest, owned by Richard and Karen Papiese of Chicago, led the owner standings with 14 wins and had entries in six races on the last weekend.

Regal Nurse delays bid for 11 in row

Regal Nurse was scratched from a starter allowance race Friday at River Downs and will wait for another time to try for her 11th straight win, trainer Dane Kobiskie said.

“It’s too hot to ship,” Kobiskie said. “Her next start will be back East for sure.”

Regal Nurse, a 5-year-old mare by Monarchos, was the 4-5 morning-line favorite in a starter allowance at one mile on the River Downs turf. She began her 10-race winning streak last November at Hawthorne, with her last two victories coming as a 1-5 favorite in starter races at Churchill on May 20 and May 31. Kobiskie has said he would like to try for the 22-race record streak that Rapid Redux compiled, ending in January of this year.

Kobiskie, a former Marine and ex-jockey who has been a dominant trainer on the Maryland circuit in recent years, enjoyed a terrific first meet at Churchill while based at the nearby Trackside training center, holding a 10-for-32 record heading into the final three-night stretch of the meet.

Racing action moves to Ellis Park

After Churchill closes Sunday, live action on the Kentucky circuit will take a two-day break before Ellis begins its 29-day summer meet Wednesday. Entries for the opener will be drawn Sunday.

Racing will be conducted mostly on a three-day-a-week schedule of Fridays through Sundays. The first of three stakes worth at least $50,000 is the Ellis Park Turf on July 14. The meet highlight, the Grade 3, $100,000 Gardenia Stakes, is set for Aug. 11.

Among those expected to join a deep riding colony at Ellis is Jesus Castanon, who began galloping horses this week after recovering from a hand injury suffered in a May 18 spill on the Churchill turf.

Stephanie’s Kitten to Lake George

Stephanie’s Kitten is being pointed to the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake George Stakes on the Saratoga turf July 25, trainer Wayne Catalano said Friday, one day after the 3-year-old filly breezed five furlongs in 1:01 over the main track at Churchill.

Stephanie’s Kitten, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf here last fall, has not raced since capturing the Edgewood Stakes on the May 4 Kentucky Oaks undercard. She missed a long-scheduled trip to the Royal Ascot meet when Catalano was not totally satisfied with her health.

“She’s fine now,” he said.

Dennis Geier More than 1 year ago