06/15/2009 11:00PM

Wait and see attitude on night racing

Email

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The historical impact of night racing at Churchill Downs has drawn the inevitable comparison to the Chicago Cubs yielding to longstanding tradition by hosting nighttime baseball for the first time on Aug. 8, 1988, at Wrigley Field.

But while Wrigley and Churchill are iconic institutions, the pressures that led to each hosting nighttime events emanated from different sources. Whereas the Cubs finally acceded to the financial demands of Major League Baseball and its ownership group, the Tribune Co., to increase television revenues and other income by playing games during prime time, the issue of night racing at Churchill was hardly a front-burner topic that called for immediate action.

Indeed, the decision to offer three nighttime programs at the 2009 spring meet was more self-imposed than anything else - and would seem to have little to do, at least for now, with increasing profits.

Estimates for the installation of a permanent lighting system at Churchill range anywhere from $4 million to $8 million, numbers that would seem exceedingly difficult for the track to recapture simply by shifting some programs from day to night. Although the track does see potential growth in hosting night racing, these three initial offerings stem more from a "Why not?" approach than anything else. With business in the racing industry in general - and Churchill in particular - having stagnated in recent years, the novelty of night racing is something that management believed to be worth a shot.

"We thought we'd throw it out there and see how our fans take to it," said Churchill vice president John Asher. "If they receive this in a positive way, then obviously it'd be something to consider on a more permanent basis."

The June 19, June 26, and July 2 programs will be the first in the track's 135-year history to extend into nighttime hours. All programs will start at 6 p.m. Eastern and end at about 11 p.m.

At least for the first night program, with all its historical implications, an ontrack crowd of 15,000 or more is being estimated - although Churchill does not release official attendance figures except for Kentucky Derby and Oaks days. A slew of special features and attractions are being offered, including a red-carpet entrance for fans and live music at different venues within the grandstand and clubhouse.

General admission for the first night is $10, up from the normal $3. Admission for the June 26 and July 2 cards is $6.

Macho Again to target Whitney Handicap

The Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga is up next for Macho Again, the gray colt who pulled a 7-1 upset Saturday in an eventful 28th running of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill.

Ridden by Robby Albarado, Macho Again added the Foster to prior wins in the Derby Trial, Jim Dandy Stakes, and New Orleans Handicap, boosting his career bankroll to $1,475,247. The 1 1/8-mile Whitney will be run Aug. 8.

"He just wanted to win," said trainer Dallas Stewart, whose lone previous Grade 1 winner at Churchill was Lemons Forever in the 2006 Kentucky Oaks. "This ought to close a lot of talk about him being an in-and-out horse."

Meanwhile, trainer Helen Pitts said Sunday she was "still sick about" the brutal trip that her stable star, Einstein, endured when finishing third in the Foster.

"I hated to see the way it unfolded, but that's horse racing," she said.

Einstein will switch back to his forte, the turf, as he points for the Aug. 8 Arlington Million, said Pitts.

Successful Dan to be carefully managed

In other fallout from the Foster Day program, trainer Charlie Lopresti said he has yet to settle on a next race for Successful Dan, the 3-year-old gelding who remained unbeaten in three starts by outgaming Warrior's Reward in a sizzling duel in the Northern Dancer Stakes.

"I don't want to try any big fish quite yet," said Lopresti. "He's a gelding, so future stud value isn't a consideration. To be honest, I'd like to pick out some easier spots where hopefully we could keep him undefeated for a while."

Also, trainer Ian Wilkes said Miss Isella, winner of the Fleur de Lis Handicap, will race next in the Grade 1 Go for Wand at Saratoga on Aug. 2.

Foster runner-up Asiatic Boy returned to New York on Sunday, along with his Kiaran McLaughlin-trained stablemate, Florentino, the wire-to-wire winner of the Jefferson Cup.

Albarado has big weekend

While Calvin Borel and Julien Leparoux have dominated much of the spring meet, Albarado certainly made his presence felt within the Churchill jockey colony when enjoying a terrific couple of days last weekend.

Not only did Albarado win the Foster for the third straight year, following wins in 2007 on Flashy Bull and 2008 with Curlin, but he won four other Saturday races, including the Regret Stakes aboard Keertana. Moreover, Albarado rode three more winners Sunday, giving him eight in that two-day span.

Saturday marked the second time Albarado has won five on a Churchill card, having previously done it on July 9, 2005, closing day of the spring meet that year.

Borel has moved into second place behind Pat Day on the all-time list of winningest jockeys at Churchill Downs. Borel won two races Friday to give him 926 wins at Churchill, nudging ahead of Don Brumfield, the retired Hall of Famer now working as a steward on the south Florida circuit. Brumfield won 925 races here.

Day is the unassailable Churchill leader with 2,482 victories.

Dam represented by two winners

The dam La Cucina had two winners here last weekend. Not only did her 4-year-old filly, Miss Isella, win the Fleur de Lis, but her 3-year-old colt, Guam Typhoon, was impressive in capturing an entry-level allowance race here the previous evening.

Miss Isella is by Silver Charm, and Guam Typhoon is by Distorted Humor. Both horses are owned by Elaine Jones and trained by Wilkes.

Filly shaves hundredth off track record

The 2-year-old filly Hot Dixie Chick lowered the track record for five furlongs by one-hundreth of a second when finishing in 56.48 on Saturday. Trained by Steve Asmussen for the Grace Stables LLC, Hot Dixie Chick, by Dixie Union, won the maiden-special race by 5 3/4 lengths under Albarado and earned a 99 Beyer.

The record was the second set at this meet. Wise River, who runs next in the July 4 Firecracker Handicap, set a turf-course mark of 1:39.83 for 1 1/16 miles on April 26.

Churchill donates $110,000 to charity

Among the Saturday ceremonies at Churchill was a presentation of a $100,000 check to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure national foundation to fight breast cancer. Churchill pledged the money to the Komen foundation as part of its gate receipts from the May 1 Kentucky Oaks program.

Churchill donated an additional $10,000 on Saturday to Horses and Hope, a breast cancer outreach and awareness initiative in Kentucky.

* The No. 5 saddlecloth was hot here Sunday, sweeping the final four races on the card. The 50-cent late pick four of 5-5-5-5 returned $4,321.70.

* After the pick six fell Saturday, the bet went unhit Sunday, leaving a carryover of $2,790 into the Thursday card. The $2 pick six is offered on the last six races daily.