Churchill Downs concluded the 122nd Fall Meet in its 137-year history on Sunday, Nov 27 during which rainy weather failed to dim the highlights of a memorable 21-day racing session highlighted by a record eighth visit by the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the introduction of a new star in the Grade I Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare, and a sparkling racing session for Bill Mott, the track’s all-time leading trainer.
Other highlights of the Oct. 30-Nov. 27 meet included a successful “Downs After Dark” night racing session on Friday, Nov. 18; the track’s first participation in Movember, a worldwide effort to raise awareness of and research funding for the effort to find a cure for prostate cancer; and a popular renewal of the annual Churchill Downs-Kentucky Thoroughbred Association College Scholarship Day.
While the overall tone of the session was positive, one negative trend continued as the average size of a race field in 209 Fall Meet races dipped from 9.76 in 2010 to 9.38. The average field size was the lowest for a Fall Meet since 2002, when fields averaged 9.39 horses per race during a 30-day racing session.
While that average field size, fueled in part by Churchill Downs’ strong program of 2-year-old racing in the fall, remained competitive with other major tracks that operated during the same time period, track officials viewed the decline as a sign of continued pressure from other racing markets that offer racing purses fortified by revenues from casino wagering, which this fall included New York tracks for the first time.
“We sincerely thank all of the fans who ventured to Churchill Downs to enjoy our Fall Meet beneath the Twin Spires and those who supported our racing program in simulcast centers throughout North America and via TwinSpires.com and other advance deposit wagering platforms,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “The record eighth visit by the Breeders’ Cup World Championships was a success by any measure; our stakes schedule, daily races and 2-year-old racing program were strong and our special events combined for a memorable meet that generated many smiles throughout its 21 days.
“While the tone of the meet was largely positive, the decline in the size of the average field of horses competing in our more than 200 races is a clear reason for concern. While many factors contribute to the success of a racing program, strong and competitive purses are at the top of that list. Churchill Downs faces growing competitive pressures from tracks in other racing dates that offer purses fattened by casino and other gaming revenues, a group of competitors that grew when the first racetrack casino to support a New York Racing Association (“NYRA”) track opened in late October at Aqueduct. We sincerely thank the owners, trainers and the all-star jockey colony that participated in our Fall Meet and supported Churchill Downs racing throughout the year. We know you have other options for your stables and we look forward to working with you again in our 2012 Spring Meet.”
The 2012 Fall Meet got off to a rousing start with the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the event’s first stop at Churchill Downs in consecutive years and its second visit in its two-day format.
Total attendance over two days of Breeders’ Cup racing was 105,820, down from last year’s record at Churchill Downs of 114,353. All-sources betting on a record 15 races, capped by the upset victory by WinStar Farm’s Drosselmeyer in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), was $155,525,947, second only to last year’s record total betting $163,619,784 on the first two-day Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the all-time leader in victories and stakes wins at Churchill Downs, enjoyed a successful Fall Meet that included Breeders’ Cup wins with Drosselmeyer and Royal Delta, who took the $2 million Ladies’ Classic (GI). Mott added two more local stakes victories with a Thanksgiving Day win by Carolyn Wilson’s Arena Elvira in the $175,000-added Falls City Handicap (GII) and a win by Juddmonte Farm’s Deluxe in the Cardinal (GIII) on turf. Mott ended the meet with a record of nine wins from 22 starters and his career win total stood at 658, a number that includes 84 stakes victories.
A star-making performance by Mort Fink’s Wise Dan in the $572,500 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare topped a list of impressive stakes performances meet. Trainer Charlie Lopresti’s 4-year-old gelding stamped himself a horse-to-watch in 2012 with his emphatic four-length victory under jockey John Velazquez. The versatile Wise Dan had earlier won Churchill Downs’ $203,000 Firecracker Handicap (GII) in his debut on turf, and also notched a pair of stakes wins over synthetic surfaces.
Other stakes highlights of the fall included exciting efforts by young stars in races for 2-year-olds during the meet’s pair of Stars of Tomorrow racing programs. The 85th running of the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) included impressive runs by its top three finishers – WinStar Farm’s Gemologist, a two-time winner during the meet; Augustin Stable’s Ever So Lucky and A. Stevens Miles Jr.’s Timely Tally – that indicated Kentucky Derby potential. And Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby dominated the 68th running of the Golden Rod (GII) for veteran local trainer Gary Hartlage and jockey Joe Johnson. The daughter of Smoke Glacken had won the Pocahontas (GII) on Stars of Tomorrow I and her sweep of the fall stakes races for 2-year-old fillies was the seventh in track history.
Other notable stakes performances include an easy victory by Glen Hill Farm’s Marketing Mix in the $200,550 Mrs. Revere (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies on turf and a pair of stakes triumphs for trainer Eddie Kenneally with Avalon Farm’s Buckleupbuttercup in the Chilukki (GIII) and Anstu Stables’ veteran Blues Street in the River City Handicap (GIII) on turf. Lothenbach Stable’s 4-year-old Mister Marti Gras rallied to take the Ack Ack Handicap (GIII), and Sagamore Farm’s Hunble and Hungry took the Commonwealth Turf (GIII) for 3-year-olds. A win by Lantern Hill Farm’s Motor City in the Iroquois (GIII) and On Fire Baby’s Pocahontas, both on the opening day Stars of Tomorrow I card on Oct. 30, launched the meet’s stakes races.
Winners of the Fall Meet’s “human races” were familiar faces. Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the all-time leaders in wins by an owner at Churchill Downs, won 12 races and a record 10th Fall Meet “leading owner” title. The Ramseys, who own 18 local titles overall, turned back runners-up Billy, Donna and Justin Hays.
Jockey Julien Leparoux earned his fifth consecutive Fall Meet “leading rider” crown by holding off runner-up Corey Lanerie by a 34-27 margin. The native Frenchman owns nine Churchill Downs titles overall.
The nip-and-tuck battle for “leading trainer” honors between Mike Maker and Steve Asmussen during the final days of the meet ended in a dead-heat. Asmussen won one race on the meet’s final day to tie Maker at 15 victories and gained a share of the title. Each had a last-chance horse in the 10th race, but the Maker-trained Twinspired finished second and Asmussen was fourth with Joes Blazing Aaron. With his share of the title, Asmussen swept Churchill Downs’ Spring and Fall Meet training crowns for the third consecutive year and has won or shared 11 Churchill Downs titles overall. Maker’s lone previous title came in the 2008 Fall Meet.
Individual milestones reached during 21 racing days included the 650th career victory for Mott, which came in a win by James Karp’s Anecdote in the eighth race on Nov. 2. Asmussen become the fifth trainer in U.S. racing to win 6,000 races, and earned that win on his 46th birthday with a 2-year-old named Basalt on Nov. 19 at Remington Park. He had scored his 5,999th win a short time earlier with Dr. Rodney Orr’s Grinning Gang in Churchill Downs’ third race. Jockey Jon Court earned his 400th Churchill Downs win aboard Bluegrass Hall LLC’s Red Jack in the sixth race on Saturday, Nov. 26. Lanerie notched his 300th victory beneath the Twin Spires on Nov. 6 with a win aboard Clover Towne Farm’s Taptowne in the 9th race.
The first “Movember” celebration was a meet-long highlight, as male members of the Churchill Downs Racetrack team, headed by Flanery, were joined by Ray Paulick, publisher of The Paulick Report, to grow mustaches in support of the prostate cancer awareness effort. Throughout the Fall Meet patrons could purchase Movember mustaches for $1, with all proceeds going to the Movember effort. A signature drink dubbed the “Fu Manchu-rita” was sold during the meet, and $1 from the purchase of each drink was donated to the Movember effort. The “Stache Bash” celebration that closed out the Churchill Downs Movember on Saturday, Nov. 26 honored Tim Greener of Louisville, who was honored through an online contest as the track’s first “Man of Movember.” Greener, a prostate cancer survivor who was first diagnosed in 2009, spent a day at the races in Millionaire’s Row and received “Stache Bash Swag Bag” as part of the festivities.
The annual “College Scholarship Day” on Friday, Nov. 11 again proved popular with college students throughout the region. Full-time students were admitted free and drawings for $1,000 scholarships were held after each of the day’s 10 races. The day concluded with a paddock concert by Grammy nominee David Nail.
Churchill Downs employees again opened their hearts and wallets to join volunteers from The Lord’s Kitchen for the annual “Thanksgiving Family Food Box Giveaway” on Tuesday, Nov. 22. Some 600 frozen turkeys and boxes filled with non-perishable foods were distributed to needy families from neighborhoods near the track. Many employees donated food items and assembled and stocked boxes on the eve of the event.
Racing returns to Churchill Downs on Saturday, April 28, 2012. The 138th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands will be run a week later on Saturday, May 5.