07/05/2011 3:21PM

Churchill Downs: As usual, Asmussen, Leparoux end spring meet on top

Julien Leparoux captured his eighth riding title at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Familiar names were atop the leader boards when Churchill Downs ended a very eventful spring meet Monday, with Steve Asmussen earning his 10th training title and Julien Leparoux leading all jockeys for the eighth time.

Asmussen sent out 18 winners at the 39-day meet, while Leparoux was the leading rider with 53 wins. Both overcame slow spots to perpetuate their dominance here: Asmussen won with just 1 of 23 starters in 2-year-old races, a perennial bright spot for his stable, while Leparoux had to rally with a torrent of winners over the last three weeks to finish six wins ahead of Corey Lanerie.

“Winning never gets old,” said Leparoux, who on Sunday became just the 10th jockey in track history to record 500 wins. “It feels great. We were here to win it.”

The meet started with the first opening night in track history, with 38,142 turning out for the April 30 card under the lights. On the following weekend, Plum Pretty won the first Kentucky Oaks with a $1 million purse, and Animal Kingdom captured the 137th Kentucky Derby before a record crowd of 164,858.

Tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc. have stood by a policy for several years of not releasing attendance and handle figures except for major race dates. However, Churchill officials said they were very pleased with how spring meet unfolded, with other notable successes being the three Friday night cards that averaged more than 25,000 in ontrack attendance and purse increases of 10 and 15 percent during the last month of the meet.

Moreover, the response from horsemen and emergency workers to the June 22 tornado that did not seriously injure any people or horses was often described as heroic.

“This spring meet will long be memorable for milestones and memories, highlighted by Derby Day attendance that surpassed a record that had been untouched for nearly 40 years,” Churchill president Kevin Flanery said in a media release, adding: “The response by our community, our horsemen, and our team in the aftermath of the June 22 tornado was an unexpected example of what makes Churchill Downs so very special.”

Live action on the Kentucky circuit resumes Friday at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., where the 31-day summer meet already began with three days of racing over the Independence Day weekend. Ellis will run three days a week through Sept. 5, after which Turfway Park, then Keeneland, will have their turns before racing returns here Oct. 30.

McCarthy appears okay after health scare

Tom McCarthy was transported by ambulance to a local hospital for observation shortly after the 77-year-old owner-trainer sent out General Quarters to a seventh-place finish Monday in the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap. By Tuesday morning, McCarthy was resting comfortably at his Louisville home, according to Jerry Hills, a close friend of McCarthy’s.

Hills said it initially was believed McCarthy may have suffered a minor stroke, but doctors said he might only have been overcome by heat exhaustion. Temperatures reached into the low 90s amid oppressive humidity Monday.

Damaged barns will be repaired

At least seven barns in the Churchill stable area soon will undergo reconstruction in the aftermath of the tornado.

Track spokesman Darren Rogers said officials are hopeful that all the construction will be complete well before the start of the fall meet. Besides the seven barns that incurred the most damage, a number of other barns also will be repaired, said Rogers. The Breeders’ Cup will be held at Churchill on Nov. 4-5.

Castanon builds upon Preakness momentum

Jesus Castanon capped a breakout spring when he rode the first three winners on the closing-day card. Castanon finished the meet with 17 winners and was ninth in the standings, but more importantly, he rode Shackleford to win the May 21 Preakness at Pimlico for his first triumph in a Triple Crown event.

Castanon, 39, got his first Triple Crown mount when riding Shackleford to a fourth-place finish in the Derby.

Pair of longshots combine for low exacta

The meet ended with a rather curious payout Monday in the 11th and final race when Windswept, an 8-1 shot, was up in the final strides to defeat Chilled, a 60-1 first-time starter. In a field of 12 maidens, the $2 exacta payoff was only $243.40, or perhaps one-third or what it might logically have paid. The exacta pool was $218,422. No word yet on whether Churchill intends to look into the matter.

Incidentally, Windswept gave a fitting finale to winning trainer Steve Margolis, whose Barn 23 was the most heavily damaged by the tornado.