09/03/2014 1:22PM

Downs After Dark card kicks off 12-day September meet

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Churchill Downs will kick off its 12-day September meet with a Downs After Dark card on Friday night.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Not too long ago, September was a regroup month for Kentucky horsemen. Weak purse structures at Turfway Park and Kentucky Downs led some trainers to give their best horses a breather. The show went on, but this certainly was not a peak time of year.
Things have changed. September is now noticeably more competitive in Kentucky, where Kentucky Downs is now offering $1 million per card for a five-day meet and Churchill, for the second straight year, is open instead of Turfway.

A 10-race Downs After Dark card opens the 12-day Churchill meet Friday night. A few tweaks make it a bit different from last September, but overall, this is what fans can expect again: some nice stakes races, less turf racing than normal, and a struggle for respectable field sizes.

Friday night is indicative of what’s on tap this month at Churchill: There is just one turf event (race 4) – due partly to the turf spree that will commence Saturday at Kentucky Downs – and most fields are small, especially race 2, a $10,000 claiming event carded with just five fillies and mares. The field-size battle is one Churchill continues to wage in the face of competition from nearby riverboat casinos and from regional tracks.

In the meantime, Churchill continues to sharpen its marketing focus on attracting young locals to the track. The Friday theme is College Rivalry Night, wherein fans are encouraged to come attired in support of their schools. Since Churchill first began racing under the lights in 2009, it’s the kind of gimmick that has worked in getting warm bodies through the gate; they drink beer, revel in live music, and seem to have a good time, although coaxing them to the betting windows is a different deal.

Attendance on the comparable September 2013 date (it was the Saturday, not Friday, of opening weekend) was 13,963, and it is not unreasonable to expect something similar this time. Track officials have adopted a general rule of thumb about what Downs After Dark cards do in comparison to a “normal” racing day: triple the attendance, double the ontrack wagering, and a small bump in all-sources handle.

The Friday evening weather calls for hot and dry conditions, but change is expected for Saturday, when a 70 percent chance of storms and cooler temperatures enter the forecast. That dicey situation for Saturday afternoon could have an effect on the four stakes (all on dirt) that will attract the attention of serious racing fans.

That stakes quartet is led by the Grade 2, $200,000 Pocahontas and Grade 3, $100,000 Iroquois. Both 2-year-old races not only are Win and You’re In events toward the Breeders’ Cup, but both also kick off the points races in their respective divisions toward the 2015 Kentucky Derby and Oaks.

:: Breeders’ Cup Challenge: Results, replays, charts, and more

The other two Saturday stakes are for older horses: the Grade 3, $100,000 Ack Ack will have Lea as a heavy favorite as he returns from a seven-month layoff, and the $100,000 Locust Grove will have On Fire Baby as a major contender as she tries to rebound from a disappointing loss here in June.

Packaging the four stakes on one card is something new this year.

“Obviously, this meet is very much a work in progress,” said John Asher, Churchill’s vice president of racing communications. “But we’ve made it clear as a company that we’re in favor of big-event days like this, and so we felt this is something worth trying.”

Corey Lanerie, the leading jockey at five of the last six Churchill meets, is back after a summer at Saratoga, as are Rosie Napravnik, Shaun Bridgmohan, Julien Leparoux, Robby Albarado, and Brian Hernandez Jr. They’ll be joined by other familiar riders such as Calvin Borel, Leandro Goncalves, Miguel Mena, and Juan Saez, the 17-year-old apprentice who easily won the Ellis Park jockeys’ title.

Steve Asmussen, who won his 14th Churchill title at the spring meet that ended June 29, has the most starters (four) of any trainer on the Friday night opener. Three others who also can be expected to be very active this month – Brad Cox, Bret Calhoun, and Wayne Catalano – each have three in Friday.

First post Friday is 6 p.m. Eastern, with two allowances (races 4 and 8) serving as nominal features. General admission after 4 p.m. is $10. The last race, a $5,000 claiming sprint, is set for 10:42. HRTV will have on-site coverage throughout the night.

This will be the first of two Downs After Dark cards this month, with the second set for Sept. 19.

sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
I thought Churchill Downs was only open for the Kentucky Derby. Shucks, you learn something new every day.
harpharper . More than 1 year ago
The name Downs After Dark kills me. Let me ask u this: today is Thursday. What day is the day after tomorrow? Uhhhh Saturday. So Downs AFTER dark is sunshine. So after dark makes absolutely no sense. But that is typical of recent CDI decisions.
tim blake More than 1 year ago
Downs After Dark makes much more sense than your post. What do today being Thursday and the day after tomorrow being Saturday have to do with the fact that you think 'after dark' means the next morning? In case you have been living in a non-English speaking country, 'after dark' is a commonly used expression meaning 'after it gets dark' or 'after the sun goes down.' Your literal interpretation seems like something that would be a cause for confusion for someone new to our country and still learning the English language. I get that you want to criticize CDI, but you should stick to all the actual bad decisions they have been making, not something trivial like an event's name. Besides, evening racing is one of the few things CDI has done to increase attendance at racing. All of their other strategies seem to have the purpose of driving people away from the 'sport.'
k More than 1 year ago
Thank you Tim Blake for pointing out just how ignorant harpharpers comments sounded. I agree probably learning how to speak English .
harpharper . More than 1 year ago
Well Tim if you want to get truly literal, the Sun doesn't "go down". The Earth rotates on its axis. The Earth revolves around the Sun, giving the illusion that it "goes down". If you want to get truly literal.
Ashleigh More than 1 year ago
up to I looked at the check saying $4286 , I didn't believe that my mom in-law realey receiving money parttime at their computer. . there friends cousin has done this for under twenty two months and resently cleared the dept on there condo and purchased Chevrolet . official website,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, www.YuJobs.Com
Mel More than 1 year ago
Until Churchill cares about the better and lowers it's takeout it is a NO PLAY track along with the Pennsylvania tracks!!!!!
harpharper . More than 1 year ago
sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
Parx is a track to just play winners. Don't even touch trifectas.
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Yep - the boycott continues until the takeout is back to where it started -- or -- lower !
Walter More than 1 year ago
The increase in takeout by CD doesn't feel better at night than it does during the daytime. Pass this meet. Kentucky Downs is the best wagering opportunity this time of year.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Bad idea. There are multiple reasons why this will go horribly. The handle will be a huge disappointment to those who decided to do the night racing. Those of us who are horse players and fans of the sport will not be supporting this program. There are so many obvious ways to increase handle and fan support other than doing night racing. Lower the takeout for one. Don't be surprised when this fails miserably.
Russell Rieckenberg More than 1 year ago
This isn't the first time Churchill is doing night racing. They know what to expect.
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
These "Downs After Dark" programs are aimed at "The Millenials" (those born after 1980) who are much more inclined to be at events at night and often consider anything that isn't a football game in the daytime to be irrelevant, especially those born after 1985 or so. This is mainly because they have had it ingrained in them over the past 25 years that the championship events in sports happen at night, and it has carried over to even non-championship events. That is something people in racing have to realize.
Matthew More than 1 year ago
You are two years too late. I am not a fan of Churchill but this has worked. Attendance goes way up on the evening programs and handle goes up as well. This is the ONLY decision Churchill has made in the last 10 years to have any success. Takeout rates are a disgrace.