07/14/2010 5:15PM

Summer exodus from Churcill begins as usual

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A disappointing performance by a returning Kentucky Derby hero helped bring another eventful Churchill Downs spring meet to an end Sunday, as Mine That Bird now will join hundreds of Kentucky horses in moving soon to Saratoga for the balance of the summer.

The 42-day meet wrapped up with Tizdejavu capturing the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap in front-running style over a field that included Mine That Bird, the 2009 Derby winner who lumbered home eighth when making his first start in nearly eight months. Trainer Greg Fox said he now will point to a fall campaign with Tizdejavu, hopefully resulting in a berth in the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill.

While major outfits will send their best horses to Saratoga, the Churchill stable area will remain active with horses who will ship to race at Ellis Park, Arlington Park, and elsewhere.

Calvin Borel, who rode Mine That Bird, had three winners on closing day to cap his first-ever Churchill spring riding title and punctuate another phenomenal meet. On May 1, Borel rode Super Saver to win the 136th Kentucky Derby, the jockey’s third Derby victory in four years, an unprecedented feat.

Borel rode 52 winners here this spring, 13 more than runner-up Corey Lanerie. Borel, who has ridden regularly at Churchill since 1995, previously had won one fall riding crown outright and tied for two other fall titles.

The Derby victory, meanwhile, was the first for trainer Todd Pletcher, who just six days before the race had lost the race favorite, Eskendereya, to a career-ending injury.

In other major races at the meet, Blind Luck won the Kentucky Oaks by a nose over Evening Jewel; General Quarters won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic; Blame rallied to capture the Stephen Foster; and Rachel Alexandra easily won the Fleur de Lis Handicap after having been upset earlier in the meet in the La Troienne Stakes.

Steve Asmussen added another training title to his crowded mantle by sending out 24 winners, five more than Dale Romans. Asmussen now has won eight Churchill meet titles, all since 2001.

Maggi Moss was the leading owner with nine winners, two more than the perennial Churchill leaders, Ken and Sarah Ramsey.

Friday night business steady

While Churchill Downs Inc. stopped releasing business figures for all of the company’s tracks in 2007, the company does make exceptions, such as for the Oaks and Derby. The company also has released figures for Friday night racing, which was held under the permanent lighting system for the first time this spring.

Ontrack attendance for four Friday nights totaled 108,468 for an average of 27,117, which was down slightly from 2009, when three night cards averaged 29,705. The 2010 attendance figures, however, still nearly quadrupled the turnouts for twilight cards on the four comparable dates in 2008, and Churchill officials are elated with the youthful and enthusiastic crowds that night racing have drawn the last two springs.

All-sources handle for the four 2010 night programs totaled nearly $22 million, down about 12 percent from the nearly $25 million that was wagered on the four comparable 2009 programs (including one twilight card). The all-sources total for the four comparable 2008 programs (all twilight) was $23.6 million.

Ontrack handle for the four 2010 night programs totaled nearly $5.4 million, compared with $5.5 million in 2009 and $2.7 million in 2008.

Perhaps the most revealing statistic about ontrack wagering during night racing is this: the last Friday night drew $1,499,651 on an 11-race card, meaning per-capita wagering for the 32,481 ontrack fans was a mere $47.

Churchill will conduct racing under the lights at the fall meet on Oct. 31 and Nov. 19, as well as the latter portions of both Breeders’ Cup programs Nov. 5-6.

◗ Larry Melancon finished ninth aboard War Clan in the sixth race Sunday in the final ride of his 38-year career as a jockey. Melancon, 54, was serenaded with a rendition of “Happy Trails” by Churchill bugler Steve Buttleman in the post parade, then was honored with a ◗ Veteran jockey Corey Nakatani ended his Churchill meet on a high note by winning three races Sunday. Nakatani took off all mounts Saturday because of back soreness following an incident Friday night when his mount in the 10th race, Tiger’s Song, broke down. Nakatani is returning to his longtime base in southern California to ride at the Del Mar meet.

◗ Churchill acknowledged the recent passing of Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Sellers by having Buttleman play “My Old Kentucky Home” in his honor before the eighth race Sunday. Sellers, who rode Carry Back to win the 1961 Derby, died Friday at age 72.

◗ An awards ceremony presented by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Media was held after the second race Sunday to belatedly honor the winningest horsemen on the Kentucky circuit in 2009: owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, trainer Mike Maker, and jockey Leandro Goncalves.

◗ Mandatory end-of-meet jackpot payouts were made Sunday in the $2 pick six, with the only winning 5-of-6 ticket returning $34,592, and in the $1 super high five, worth $7,944.

◗ Local simulcasting will be held at the nearby Trackside annex through Aug. 4 so that Churchill can make necessary preparations to the main plant for the upcoming HullabaLOU music festival on July 23-25.

◗ George Arnold Sr., a longtime trainer and the father of George “Rusty” Arnold, died Sunday at age 83 following a lengthy illness. A memorial service is scheduled for Friday in Lexington, Ky. The elder Arnold ran his final starter in October at Beulah Park.

◗ The 27-day summer meet at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., begins Saturday and runs through Sept. 6.