07/05/2009 11:00PM

Churchill meet ends with buzz about night racing


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A highly eventful spring meet at Churchill Downs came to an end Sunday with the lingering question of what track officials intend to do about the phenomenon of night racing, which met with spectacular results when it was introduced for the first time in track history during a 45-day spring meet that ended Sunday.

Churchill reported that the three night cards (June 19, June 26, and July 2) drew an aggregate attendance of 89,115, more than four times the total for corresponding dates in 2008. Ontrack handle of $4.9 million was more than 2 1/2 times the previous numbers, but all-sources wagering of $19 million - a key number because of the sheer volume - was up just 10 percent.

Those figures clearly show that it was the local fans who showed the greatest enthusiasm for night racing at Churchill. Officials have said they will undertake an evaluation process in the coming weeks and months as to how to proceed with night racing at future spring meets and whether or not to install permanent lights.

Churchill Downs Inc. stopped releasing meet business figures in 2007 for all the company's tracks. The meet began April 25.

Borel heads meet's stars

Besides night racing, the big news this spring was generated by Calvin Borel and his mounts in the two most important races of the meet, the May 1 Kentucky Oaks and May 2 Kentucky Derby. Borel became just the seventh jockey to sweep those races in the same year when he guided Rachel Alexandra to a record-breaking 20 1/4-length triumph in the May 1 Oaks and Mine That Bird to a 6 3/4-length triumph in the Derby the next day.

Other major events included the debut of Mark Johnson as track announcer; the elimination of the last seven Wednesdays from the racing schedule because of chronically light entries; and Grade 1 victories by Informed Decision in the May 2 Humana Distaff, Einstein in the Mayo2 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, and Macho Again in the June 13 Stephen Foster Handicap.

Julien Leparoux held on to win his fifth Churchill jockey title despite missing the last two days of the meet to ride elsewhere. Leparoux won 62 races, one more than Borel, who had three winners on the Sunday card but missed with his only chance to tie when Caminadora finished eighth in the ninth race.

Steve Asmussen, with 29 wins, was the leading trainer at Churchill for the sixth time, while Ken and Sarah Ramsey earned a record 15th owners' title with 18 wins.

Plans uncertain for Backtalk

Backtalk, winner of the Bashford Manor Stakes on Friday, came out of the race in good shape but has no definite race on his agenda, trainer Tom Amoss said Monday. "There are a number of possibilities," said Amoss.

Meanwhile, the Bashford Manor runner-up, Flatter Than Me, could run next at the Saratoga meet, said trainer Merrill Scherer.

Five of six earns $2,878

Although there were no perfect tickets in the pick six on closing day, the pool was dispersed to those who had five winners, with each winning ticket earning a mandatory payout of $2,878.

With no perfect super high five tickets on the last race Sunday, there were no payoffs, because the revolving wager also involves races at ongoing meets at Calder and Arlington Park. A $17,530 carryover remained after the final Churchill race.

A minus show pool resulted from the ninth race Saturday when heavily favored Simplify finished second in a six-horse field. Of the $227,791 in the pool, $214,498 was bet on Simplify, with the minimum nickel-on-the-dollar payoff of $2.10 resulting.

Short break until Ellis opener

In previous years, action on the Kentucky circuit resumed when Ellis Park began its summer meet on the Wednesday after Churchill ended its spring meet on a Sunday.

That isn't the case this year. Owner Ron Geary has pared the racing schedule at Ellis from 48 to 23 days and has insisted this will be the final meet in the track's 78-year history. The 2009 meet begins Saturday, with the first stakes race set for July 18. Post time each day will be 12:10 p.m. Central, 30 minutes earlier than in recent years.