Churchill Downs’ final Downs After Dark of the 38-day Spring Meet is Saturday at 6 p.m. (all times Eastern) and there are plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Not only will Churchill Downs throw Louisville’s largest pre-Fourth of July party with a “Star-Spangled Night” theme, but there’ll be a celebration of more than a half-million night racing guests since Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka debuted with a bang five years ago.
If that isn’t enough, reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan, the world’s top-ranked active runner in the latest Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, headlines the featured Grade II, $150,000-added Firecracker Handicap – one of the three stakes races on the 11-race program.
Guests are encouraged to “dress to impress” in red, white and blue as Churchill Downs is adorned with plenty of patriotic fan-fare for its All-American bash.
In a celebration of Churchill Downs surpassing 500,000 night-racing guests when 20,034 attended last week’s Downs After Dark racing and entertainment event, Churchill Downs will extend a special “thank you” to the fans with a fabulous grand prize drawing to win a Millionaires Row table, $250 betting voucher and trophy presentation to the first of two Downs After Dark events during its inaugural Homecoming Meet on Saturday, Sept. 7. Five sets of reserved 3rd floor Clubhouse box seats for six will be given away as well.
Additionally, Churchill Downs has planned a public toast after the Firecracker Handicap (Race 9 at 10:11 p.m.) with Saturday’s official event drink: the Frozen SoCo Hurricane.
The spacious 30,000-square-foot Plaza adjacent to the saddling paddock will be the heartbeat of the party. There’ll be live music by 64West (4-7:30 p.m.), one of the region’s premier rock, country and party bands, and the popular Jordan English Band (8-11:30 p.m.) of Lexington, Ky. There also will be performances by The Rumors on the Clubhouse’s fifth floor balcony, Jamie Vessels at the Gate 17 entrance and DJs in Millionaires Row and on the Jockey Club Suites fourth floor balcony. All the while, popular track bugler Steve Buttleman is sure to entertain guests with plenty of pre-race patriotic hymns after each “Call to the Post.”
A giant U.S. flag will be flown by two Louisville Fire Department fire trucks between Gates 1 and 17 to be viewed by guests from the paddock and Plaza areas. There also will be a touching display of more than 3,000 U.S. flags inside the Gate 10 entrance in the Jockey’s Garden in conjunction with Flags4Vets, whose primary goal is to raise funds and place flags on every one of the graves of U.S. veterans buried in the 151 U.S. military cemeteries located in 11 countries.
The National Anthem will be performed twice Saturday. Buttleman will be accompanied by four U.S. Marines and the Presentation of Colors at 5:30 p.m. Later that evening, Misty Gonzalez of Cleveland, Ohio, the winner of Churchill Downs’ online “O Say Can YOU Sing?” promotion, will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” from The Plaza Stage between Races 4-5 at 7:50 p.m.
Additionally, there will be a special tribute to six Congressional Medal of Honor Montford Point Marines during a sure-to-be-memorable Trackside Winner’s Circle ceremony after Race 3 at 6:56 p.m.
Admission gates will open Saturday at 4 p.m. and the first of 11 live races will begin at 6 p.m. The final live race will be 11:10 p.m. and the on-track party will continue in the Plaza area until 11:30 p.m. The last call for alcohol will be post time for the final race of night.
Other ancillary entertainment includes the popular text-to-win sweepstakes “Bet or No Bet,” sponsored by Thorntons. Four lucky on-track patrons will face a tough decision on Races 6-9: to place a $1,000 win bet on a horse in the upcoming race or take a $100 Thorntons’ gift card. Meanwhile, those wearing the most festive red, white and blue outfits will be recognized in The Plaza during between-race contests for best-dressed female, male, couple and group.
Shane Co. will be on site inside the Gate 17 entrance near the Churchill Downs Store to give away special commemorative gifts, and RAM Trucks will be on display at Gates 1 and 10. Also, the Churchill Downs team will distribute light-up necklaces decorated with flags and stars to select patrons in The Plaza.
Saturday’s marquee entertainment event has been paired with stellar stakes racing action. In addition to the 23rd renewal of the Firecracker Handicap for older horses at one mile on turf, Churchill Downs will showcase promising 2-year-olds in the 112th running of the Grade III, $100,000-added Bashford Manor (Race 7 at 9:05 p.m.) and top sprinters in the $65,000-added Kelly’s Landing (Race 3 at 6:56 p.m.).
Cover charge (general admission) to all Downs After Dark events is $10. Holders of shareholders passes or horsemen licenses and children age 12 and under (when accompanied by an adult) will be admitted free of charge. No one under the age of 18 will be admitted to the track unless they are accompanied by a parent or responsible adult.
There is limited reserved seating still available. Indoor dining packages in Millionaires Row are $59.90 per person and include a scrumptious buffet dinner, reserved seat and official program. Outdoor third-floor box seats are on sale for $20 and include general admission, a box seat in the third-floor clubhouse and an official program.
Reserved seating can be purchased online at ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets or the on-track box office located at the Gate 1 entrance off Central Ave. (open Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 9 p.m.). The cutoff for online sales is Friday at noon.
Those attending Downs After Dark are encouraged to arrive early to secure on-site parking and avoid traffic delays. All on-property parking lots will open at 3 p.m. and space is available on a first-come, first-served basis (free in the Longfield Avenue lot). Typically, all lots are filled to capacity early in the racing program. Churchill Downs will offer free parking and shuttle service from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium starting at 5 p.m. There will be free round-trip shuttle service throughout the evening. All Churchill Downs employees will be directed to park in the track’s infield (enter through Longfield tunnel).
Churchill Downs has secured the services of Louisville Metro Police Department officers and traffic guards to monitor area traffic on Central Avenue and other nearby streets to advance ingress and egress. LMPD will control traffic signals, turn lanes and pedestrian traffic and partial road closures are possible if it becomes necessary because of heavy traffic.
As usual, Churchill Downs will be open early for simulcast wagering on the second floor of the clubhouse Saturday. General admission will be its regular price of $3 from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Gate 17. Saturday’s betting menu includes Calder (12:50 p.m.), Monmouth Park (12:55 p.m.), Woodbine (1 p.m.), Belmont Park (1:05 p.m.), Delaware (1:15 p.m.), Arlington (2 p.m.), Louisiana Downs (2:25 p.m.), Lone Star Park (2:35 p.m.), Betfair Hollywood Park (4 p.m.), Penn National (6 p.m.), Evangeline Downs (6:40 p.m.), Mountaineer (7 p.m.), Charles Town (7:15 p.m.) and Prairie Meadows (7:30 p.m.).
It isn’t just racing under the stars that has attracted people to historic Churchill Downs. After all, night racing has been part of horse racing history for several decades. Instead, it is the abundant ancillary activities coupled with live racing that have helped create a special and festive atmosphere. Quite simply, Churchill Downs is transformed into Louisville’s ultimate nighttime hot spot, leaving many attendees describing the experience as “something you’ve just got to see.”
Downs After Dark has been a spectacular success since its inception. Churchill Downs first experimented with night racing under temporary lights in 2009, and one year year later, the racetrack invested $4 million to add permanent lighting – 1,012 fixtures atop 50 poles and 25 rooftop structures. The move has proved to be popular as 518,065 core customers, casual patrons and entertainment-seekers have attended the 21 special nighttime programs. The Downs After Dark events have essentially tripled the on-track attendance and doubled the on-track wagering handle compared to afternoon programs previously staged on those dates.
The average attendance for the 13 summertime Downs After Dark programs through 2012 was 26,276, compared to a Friday afternoon program that typically averaged 7,500 patrons. Downs After Dark on-track handle averaged $1.4 million, while all-sources handle, which includes betting from off-track betting and advance deposit wagering outlets, averaged $5.8 million.
Last year was the first year Churchill Downs moved Downs After Dark from Fridays to Saturdays and combined the entertainment with high-quality stakes racing. The average attendance was 23,220. On-track wagering averaged $1.4 million and all-sources betting averaged $6.3 million.
A Downs After Dark record all-sources handle of $8,390,130 occurred on the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap night, a 5.4% jump from 2012’s previous mark of $7,960,789. The on-track crowd of 23,509 bet $1,343,337 while an unprecedented $7,046,793 was wagered at off-track and advance deposit wagering outlets around the country.
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 3, 2014 and its 2013 Spring Meet is scheduled continues through Sunday, June 30. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record eight times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.ChurchillDowns.com.