The new September Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack (“CDRT”) completed its 12-day run on Sunday, Sept. 29 with encouraging results and memorable races that have track officials excited about future growth and success for the new entertainment and racing product in 2014.
The meet’s results were a significant improvement on Kentucky’s September racing calendar and the average daily all-sources mutuel handle over its four-week run tripled the 2012 performance at Turfway Park, which had held the September racing dates in recent years. Average daily all-sources handle during Churchill Downs’ September Meet was $3,857,898, an increase of 201% from Turfway Park’s daily average of $1,283,638 in 2012.
The meet also featured strong “Downs After Dark” night racing programs on Saturday, Sept. 7 and Saturday, Sept. 28 that attracted combined attendance of 29,448. The latter, which featured the theme of “Homecoming Dance: A Night to Remember” and an appearance by reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) winner Fort Larned in the inaugural $191,275 Homecoming Classic, attracted 15,485 fans.
The meet was the first Churchill Downs racing session since 1890 to be conducted exclusively in the month of September. The addition of the September Meet to the track’s racing schedule will make 2013 the first year during which the track will conduct three separate racing meets. Its 25-day Fall Meet is scheduled for Oct. 27-Nov. 30.
“We are very encouraged by the reception for our September Meet in its inaugural year from fans who visited Churchill Downs or participated by wagering via TwinSpires.com and other online platforms, and in satellite betting outlets,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “Our team created an exciting and attractive new entertainment and racing product for fans throughout the region and provided Kentucky horsemen with a strong and viable racing option during an important time on the racing calendar. We can’t wait to make the September Meet even more exciting in 2014.”
Racing highlights during the September Meet were headed by the popular Homecoming Classic victory by Janis R. Whitham’s Fort Larned, who had earlier won the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) during the track’s Spring Meet. The appearance by trainer Ian Wilkes’ 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner in the first running of a race designed to be a prep for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and Churchill Downs’ $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on Nov. 29 contributed to an auspicious debut for the event.
Close behind was the Sept. 7 “Downs After Dark” program that featured four stakes races headed by a pair of major events for 2-year-old Thoroughbreds: the $150,000-added Pocahontas (GII) for fillies and the $150,000-added Iroquois (GIII). Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s unbeaten Untapable won the former for trainer Steve Asmussen, while Donegal Racing finished 1-2 in the latter for trainer Dale Romans with Cleburne and Smart Cover.
The Pocahontas and Iroquois, which had previously been fixtures in the track’s Fall Meet, were designated for the first time as the first stops on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Road to the Kentucky Oaks points series that will determine eligibility to compete in next spring’s 140th runnings of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI). Both races also were part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series, and the winners of the Iroquois and the Pocahontas earned spots in the starting gate, respectively, for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) and the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Santa Anita in early November.
There were 122 races conducted during the meet and 985 horses competed in those events for an average 8.07 horses per race. The average field for a race during the track’s 2013 Spring Meet was 7.78 horses. Purses paid over those races totaled $4,473,654, with average purses of $372,805 per day during the 12-day September session. As usual, business was strong in claiming races as 73 horses changed hands during the meet with total claims of $1,011,000. The claiming activity over 12 racing days generated sales tax revenue of $60,660 for the state of Kentucky.
Recent racing meets at Churchill Downs have featured battles between Corey Lanerie and Shaun Bridgmohan for the honor of “leading jockey.” Bridgmohan won the 2013 Spring Meet title, but Lanerie earned the September crown by a 19-14 edge over his rival. Three-time Kentucky Derby-winner Calvin Borel, Brian Hernandez Jr. and Ricardo Santana Jr. each collected eight wins to finish in a tie for third. It was Lanerie’s third Churchill Downs riding crown. He swept the track’s 2012 Spring and Fall titles.
Dale Romans saddled his eighth winner of the September Meet in its final race to tie Steve Asmussen for the honor of leading trainer. Mike Maker finished one win back of the co-leaders and Steve Margolis saddled six winners. The title was a record-extending 13th either won outright or shared by Asmussen, who also owns six Spring and six Fall Meet titles. Louisville native Romans has collected 11 Churchill Downs training titles, a total that includes seven Spring crowns and three in the Fall Meet.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the all-time leaders in victories by an owner at Churchill Downs, won three races on the meet’s final day to surpass Maggi Moss and secure the September Meet’s “leading owner” trophy by a margin of 6-4. The title was a record 20th for the Nicholasville, Ky. couple, who set a record for victories in a single Churchill Downs racing meet when they took the “leading owner” trophy during the 2013 Spring Meet. The Ramseys possess nine Spring Meet titles and 10 Fall Meet crowns.
Other racing highlights of the September Meet featured a dazzling performance by George and Lori Hall’s homebred Pants On Fire, who atoned for a disappointing 10th-place finish in the 2011 Kentucky Derby with a stakes-record triumph in the Ack Ack Handicap (GIII). John Clay’s Sky Girl was impressive in winning the Dogwood (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies in her stakes debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the all-time win leader at Churchill Downs who extended his record for stakes wins at the track to 88. And WinStar Farm’s General Election finished fast to edge Redwood Kitten by a neck in the Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds on turf and provide trainer Kellyn Gorder with his first stakes victory beneath the Twin Spires.
Other stakes winners during the meet included Preston Stables LLC’s Flashy American, a former claiming horse for trainer Kenny McPeek who wore down Wine Princess to take the Locust Grove for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, and Gillian Campbell, Ralph and Shelly Stayer and Andrew Pajak’s Vuitton who rallied to take the Open Mind for older fillies and mares at six furlongs.