Churchill Downs Racetrack has appointed David Lehr to the post of Track Superintendent and Senior Director of Track Surfaces, a post he will assume immediately at the historic home of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), Kentucky Oaks (GI) and a record eight-time host of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
A member of Churchill Downs Incorporated’s Louisville operations since 1972, Lehr will oversee the care and preparation of the one-mile dirt track over which the Kentucky Derby has been run since America’s greatest race made its debut in 1875 and the seven-furlong Matt Winn Turf Course, which hosted its first race on April 29, 1987. Lehr oversaw maintenance of the six-furlong dirt training track at Churchill Downs’ Trackside training center while working as that facility’s Director of Operations from 1994 through August 2005. He then returned to Churchill Downs to work as Assistant Track Superintendent.
Lehr, 59, succeeds his older brother, Raymond “Butch” Lehr, who concluded three decades as Track Superintendent and more than 45 years with Churchill Downs when he retired on July 1. As he assumes his new duties, David Lehr becomes just the fourth individual to hold that post in 101 years. Churchill Downs legend Col. Matt Winn appointed Tom Young to the post in 1911and he held the job for the next 50 years. Thurman Pangburn succeeded Young in 1962 and held the post until 1981, when he retired and was succeeded by Butch Lehr, who had worked as Pangburn’s assistant.
“We talked with a strong roster of outstanding candidates during a true national search, but it became clear to us that the person best-equipped to succeed in this important job was already here in David Lehr,” said Kevin Flanery, President of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “Given the Kentucky Derby’s status as America’s greatest race and the role of Churchill Downs as frequent host to international competition in the Breeders’ Cup, it is no exaggeration to describe the job of track superintendent at Churchill Downs as one of the most important and heavily-scrutinized jobs in the racing world. Our selection of David Lehr will surely be popular with our horsemen and members of our team, but what is most important is that we strongly believe we have made the right choice and David will prove to be one of the outstanding track superintendents in the world.”
“I’m very proud to have this opportunity and this is a very emotional day for me,” Lehr said. “I’m proud of Butch, what we’ve accomplished at Churchill Downs through the years, where we came from and the hard work it took to get here. I’ve worked to learn everything I could about this dirt track and turf course, and look forward to leading a great mix of veterans and newer members on our track crew.”
David Lehr has been a member of the track crew at Churchill Downs for the last 40 renewals of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, and all eight visits by the Breeders’ Cup to the Louisville track. He took his first job at the track two days after his graduation from Louisville’s DuPont Manual High School and, with the exception a stint in the Army in 1973-74, has worked beneath the track’s venerable Twin Spires since then. Even during his military duty, he was able to come home to work with the track crew during the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby in 1974.
Lehr lives in Louisville with his wife, Gina. Their family includes son Brian and his wife, Johnna.