11/17/2009 12:00AM

Churchill plans six night cards

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Night racing under temporary lights was offered three times at the 2009 spring meet.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs has scheduled six nights of racing in 2010, including four nights at the spring meet, officials said Tuesday as they unveiled some of the details of the permanent lighting system that will be installed at the track.

The dates for night racing are June 11, June 18, June 25, and July 2 at the spring meet and Oct. 31 and Nov. 19. All are Fridays except Oct. 31, a Sunday and the opening night of the fall meet.

Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs, said at a news conference that relatively few night racing dates were scheduled to keep the concept fresh.

"It's something unique," Flanery said. "We want something special."

Night racing under temporary lights was offered on three occasions at the 2009 spring meet and met with spectacular results, drawing an average of nearly 30,000 people per night.

Flanery said that any discussion of holding the Kentucky Derby or Oaks under the lights would be premature.

"We never say never," Flanery said. "First, we need to see how the lights perform operationally, and second, we want to make sure these night programs have an impact."

Any consideration of a Derby or Oaks under lights would have to involve other parties besides Churchill, Flanery said, including television-rights holders, horsemen, the city of Louisville, Churchill employees, and neighbors.

"We'll worry about all that at a later date," he said.

The 2010 Breeders' Cup will be held Nov. 5-6 at Churchill, and Flanery said no formal talks have been held yet with Breeders' Cup Ltd. about staging parts of either program under lights. "But the lights do give us that option now," he said.

With the installation of permanent lights, the turf course will be lit and available for evening racing for the first time. Last spring, the temporary equipment did not light the turf course.

Musco Lighting, the Iowa company that has installed lights at major venues throughout the world, has the contract for the Churchill job, which track officials estimated would cost about $4 million.

A Churchill spokesman, Darren Rogers, said the start date for the project is Dec. 1, with a target completion date of March 31. The project will consist of about 50 poles and 25 rooftop structures. Musco vice president Jeff Rogers said the permanent lighting system will employ less wattage per bulb than the temporary system used and will be environmentally friendly, emitting less of what he termed "light pollution." Rogers said more than 1,000 bulbs will be in use. Nearby Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, which Musco also services, uses fewer than 500 bulbs.

Churchill joins some three dozen racetracks around the world where Musco has installed lights, including the new Meydan course in Dubai. along with North American tracks such as Colonial Downs, Emerald Downs, the Meadowlands, Prairie Meadows, and Woodbine.

* In other business, Churchill officials announced that online ticketing sales to all race dates, including general admission to the 2010 Kentucky Derby and Oaks, are now available for the first time by logging onto tickets.churchilldowns.com. Ticket processing charges apply.