06/27/2009 12:00AM

Second night card 'very hot, but very cool'

Churchill Downs/ReedPalmer Photography
A crowd of 27,623 takes in the action Friday at Churchill Downs as the track hosts its second-ever night card.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Now if only someone could turn down the heat. For the second straight Friday night, Churchill Downs hosted an 11-race program that drew a packed house, one lacking most of the widespread problems of the first night but held amid oppressive heat that kept the sweat flowing as steadily as the beer.

The announced attendance was 27,623, just short of the 28,011 reported to have come out when Churchill hosted the first night program in its 134-year history on June 19. Many in the crowd were of the under-30 demographic, swilling beer and paying greater heed to the several bands on hand than a Daily Racing Form or track program.

"This is cool," said John Reagan, an 18-year-old Louisville resident. "Very hot, but very cool."

With high-80s temperatures and brutal humidity that lasted even past the final-race post time of 11:11 p.m. Eastern, fans did what they could to cope. Many utilized a vastly improved system of purchasing beer. Plagued by ridiculously long lines for food and drink during the June 19 program, Churchill said it had tripled its concessions staff while substantially increasing the number of outlets for buying drinks, including the addition of 56 roving beer sellers.

Some fans said they were enticed to return by happy-hour prices for draft beer at some concession stands. Lines for food and the happy-hour beer on the first-floor clubhouse just inside Gate 17 were still 12 to 15 deep midway through the night, but in general, the snafus of the first night had been addressed and largely corrected.

"We're very happy with how the night has gone," Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers said late in the evening. "The party's on."

On the racetrack, the action was entertaining. Karama ($20), ridden by Fernando Jara, outgamed Taurus the Bull in a terrific stretch drive to post a head victory in the featured 10th race, a $43,810 allowance. After every race, most trainers and stablehands awaited their horses near the winner's circle with plentiful supplies of cold water so as to quickly cool down the runners in attempts to prevent them from suffering from heat stroke.

David Sherry of Louisville was one of the biggest winners on the night. Sherry was one of five names drawn in the "Bet or No Bet" raffle, and he chose to make his $1,000 bet on Candid Image in the seventh race. The horse closed late to prevail at a $15.80 mutuel, winning $7,900 for Sherry.

The third and last night program of the meet is set for Thursday at 6 p.m. The spring meet ends July 5.

Churchill officials have said they will take many factors into consideration regarding the three nighttime experiments before making decisions about whether to install permanent lighting. There have been no problems reported with the temporary light system.