Churchill Downs Racetrack will honor two riding greats with stakes races – one renamed and another that is new – during its 2015 Spring Meet, which spans 38 days from Saturday, April 25 through Saturday, June 27.
To no surprise, a sextet of Grade I races highlights the nine-week stand but none are more prominent than the 141st runnings of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks. The two stalwarts anchor a 25-race stakes lineup that emphasizes big-event days cumulatively worth $8.05 million – a $375,000 increase or 5% jump from 2014. Fourteen of the stakes will be staged on Derby Week when the international spotlight is shining bright on Louisville.
The most significant change to the stakes menu involves the now former Derby Trial. The Grade III, one-mile race for 3-year-olds – which produced 13 Kentucky Derby winners mainly in the 1940s and 50s but has been less meaningful in recent years because of today’s modern training methods – has been moved from Opening Night to Kentucky Derby Day, renamed the Pat Day Mile and boosted by $50,000 from $150,000 to $200,000. It is one of four Spring Meet stakes races to receive a purse hike.
The renamed race appropriately honors Churchill Downs’ greatest jockey. Enshrined in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2005, Pat Day won a record 2,482 races at Churchill Downs, including 156 stakes, from 1980-2005. His local win total is more than double of his closest rival, fellow Hall of Famer Calvin Borel, who has won 1,176 races beneath the Twin Spires.
“There’s no better way for Churchill Downs to show its appreciation and honor Pat Day – a legendary jockey, great ambassador of horse racing, pillar in the Louisville community and a man known for his devout faith – than to pay tribute with a race named in his honor on Kentucky Derby Day, America’s greatest day of racing,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “We’re thrilled to salute one of our most beloved individuals and role models.”
None of Day’s victories was more memorable than his triumph aboard W.C. Partee’s Lil E. Tee in the 1992 Kentucky Derby. He rode in a record 21 consecutive renewals of the Kentucky Derby, a streak that ended when hip surgery forced him to miss the 2005 “Run for the Roses.” Day’s Triple Crown résumé also included five wins in the Preakness Stakes – one short of Eddie Arcaro’s record – and three victories in the Belmont Stakes.
“It’s a tremendous honor to have a race at any time or any kind named in your honor – that’s an honor in and of itself,” Day said. “But to have a race such as the Derby Trial moved to Kentucky Derby Day and have it renamed the Pat Day Mile is out of the park. That’s just unbelievable. To say that we’re honored is an understatement. In the same way that I was unable to describe the feeling of winning the Kentucky Derby, I find myself at a loss for words to describe the feeling of having this occur. God continues to bless me. I truly appreciate the sentiment and thank Churchill Downs for the honor.”
Day’s 8,803 career wins rank fourth all-time and his mounts that earned $297,914,839 rank second. During his career, Day lead the nation in wins six times (1982-84, ’86, and ’90-91). His most prolific single day came on Sept. 13, 1989, when Day set a North American record by winning eight races from nine mounts at Arlington Park. At Churchill Downs, he won with a record seven mounts on June 20, 1984. His local dominance is amplified by a record 34 riding titles – 15 Spring Meet and 19 Fall Meet riding crowns.
“We’ve been kicking around the idea of moving the Derby Trial to Kentucky Derby Day for a couple of years now because the race is clearly not a significant step to the Derby anymore with the way horsemen train their horses today,” said Ben Huffman, Churchill Downs Racetrack’s Director of Racing and Racing Secretary. “We revere the storied history of the race but ultimately feel that a one-turn mile race with familiar 3-year-olds that aren’t up to the mile-and-a-quarter distance could prove to be very popular with both horsemen and fans alike on Kentucky Derby Day. We think this really bolsters an already substantial Derby Day card.”
The former Derby Trial was first run in 1924 and that inaugural running was won by Black Gold, who returned to win the Derby. Others who swept both races include Triple Crown winner Citation (1948), Hill Gail (1952), Dark Star (1953) and Tim Tam (1958). Horses that failed to win the Derby Trial but won the Kentucky Derby include Triple Crown winners Whirlaway (1941) and Assault (1946), Lawrin (1938), Gallahadion (1940), Ponder (1949), Middleground (1950), Determine (1954) and Iron Liege (1957). Assault and Iron Liege finished off-the-board in their respective runnings of the Trial, while the others were runners-up in their renewals. The most recent Derby Trial winner to play a significant role in the Kentucky Derby was B. Wayne Hughes’ Don’t Get Mad, who finished fourth to Giacomo in the 2005 Derby.
Taking the place of the former Derby Trial on Opening Night will be the $100,000 William Walker, which is named to honor the riding great from yesteryear who is best known for guiding Dan Swigert’s Baden-Baden to a two-length victory in the 1877 Kentucky Derby at the age of 17 for eventual Hall of Fame trainer Edward Dudley Brown.
The inaugural running of the six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds is the racing highlight of the Opening Night celebration under the lights on Saturday, April 25, which will kick off the Spring Meet and Kentucky Derby Week. “A sprint for 3-year-olds is really the only stakes category that we don’t have covered on Oaks and Derby Days,” Huffman said. “We think horsemen will appreciate this spot for sprinting 3-year-olds.”
William “Billy” Walker Sr. was born enslaved in 1860 in Woodford County, Ky., began riding at age 11 in 1871 and witnessed every Derby for 59 straight years from its 1875 debut until his death at age 73 on Sept. 20, 1933. The African-American jockey was Churchill Downs’ leading rider at six of the track’s first 13 meets (Fall 1875, Spring ’76, Fall ’76, Spring ’77, Spring ’78 and Spring ’81). One of his greatest moments at Churchill Downs came aboard 7-year-old Ten Broeck in the famed four-mile match race with the California-based mare Molly McCarthy on July 4, 1878, a contest remembered in the bluegrass music standard “Molly and Tenbrooks.”
When Walker’s riding career ended after some 25 years, he became a trainer, was recognized as an expert on breeding and bloodlines and served as an advisor to John E. Madden, who bred five winners of the Kentucky Derby: Hall of Fame inductees Old Rosebud (1914), Triple Crown-winner Sir Barton (1919) and Zev (1923), as well as Paul Jones (1920) and Flying Ebony (1925). He also served as a clocker at Churchill Downs’ Spring and Fall Meets. Walker’s unmarked grave was discovered at the Louisville Cemetery near Germantown in the mid-1990s, and Churchill Downs placed a headstone detailing his memorable racing career at the resting place prior to the 1996 Kentucky Derby.
“There’s a vast number of people who helped make Churchill Downs the legendary racetrack that it is today, and we’re proud to remember William ‘Billy’ Walker as one of Churchill Downs’ founding jockeys,” Flanery said. “Walker not only had a noteworthy career in horse racing and the Kentucky Derby, but he was a notable and admired individual in Louisville’s African-American community. We’re delighted to memorialize his impact with this new Opening Night stakes race.”
The addition of the Pat Day Mile to Kentucky Derby Day on Saturday, May 2 means that seven graded stakes races cumulatively worth $4.05 million – the richest in the track’s storied history – will help comprise the 13-race Derby Day card on Saturday, May 2. The 141st running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) for 3-year-olds at 1 ¼ miles, won last year by eventual Horse of the Year California Chrome, is the obvious centerpiece. It’s preceded by the 29th running of the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI), a 1 1/8-mile test on the Matt Winn Turf Course for 4-year-olds and up; the 29th running of the $300,000 Humana Distaff (GI), a seven-furlong sprint for older fillies and mares; the 81st running of the $500,000 Churchill Downs (GII), a seven-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and up; the 30th running of the $300,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Presented by Longines (GII), a one mile grass race for older fillies and mares; the 24th running of the $250,000 American Turf Presented by Ram Trucks (GII), a 1 1/16-mile turf contest for 3-year-olds; and 91st running of the $200,000 Pat Day Mile Presented by LG&E and KU (GIII) for 3-year-olds at one mile.
The Churchill Downs, won in recent years by Shackleford (2012), Delauney (2013) and Central Banker (2014), received a $100,000 purse increase.
The Kentucky Oaks Day card on Friday, May 1 is the nation’s fourth-largest attended racing program in the U.S. only behind the three Triple Crown events. The 141st running of the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) at 1 1/8 miles, America’s premier and most lucrative race for 3-year-old fillies, has produced 27 victors that would be named Champion 3-Year-Old Filly at year’s end, including last year’s winner Untapable. The Oaks Day card features six stakes cumulatively worth a record $2.2 million, including the 30th running of the $300,000 La Troienne (GI), a 1 1/16-mile test for older fillies and mares; $400,000 Alysheba (GII), a 1 1/16-mile test for 4-year-olds and up; 60th running of the $200,000 Eight Belles (GIII), a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies; 21st running of the $150,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint (GIII), a five-furlong dash on grass for 4-year-olds and up; and 31st running of the $150,000 Edgewood Presented by Forcht Bank (GIII), a 1 1/16-mile race on turf for 3-year-old fillies.
The Alysheba, an increasingly popular spot for some of the nation’s elite older horses, was enhanced by $100,000. Recent winners include First Dude (2011), Successful Dan (2012), Take Charge Indy (2013) and Moonshine Mullin (2014) against fields that have included the likes of future two-time Horse of the Year (2012-13) Wise Dan, who finished eighth in 2011; future Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winners Fort Larned (2012) and Mucho Macho Man (2013), who finished second and third, respectively, in the Alysheba’s 2012 running; and 2013 Champion 3-Year-Old Male Will Take Charge, who finished sixth as the favorite last year.
“The Alysheba and Churchill Downs are two of the strongest Grade IIs on our stakes program and we’re continuing to gradually get these undercard stakes purses up to ensure high quality talent from around the country with the hope of garnering Grade I status down the road,” Huffman said. “That’s our ultimate goal.”
Also, the Eight Belles was boosted by $25,000 and the Edgewood was awarded Grade III status for the first time by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association after its annual review of U.S. races.
The 34th running of the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at 1 1/8 miles, the racing centerpiece of a “Downs After Dark” night racing program on Saturday, June 13, is one of the major American races for older horses and heads a schedule of four races beneath the Churchill Downs lights that offer total stakes purses of $900,000. Sharing the nighttime spotlight with the Foster are the 40th running of the $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII), a 1 1/8-mile races for fillies and mares; the 18th running of the $100,000 Matt Winn (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles; and the 46th running of the $100,000 Regret (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
Closing night on Saturday, June 27 will showcase a stakes tripleheader for the spring “Downs After Dark” finale. The headliner under the lights is the 25th running of the $200,000 Firecracker (GII), a one-mile grass test for 3-year-olds and up that was won by Wise Dan in 2011 and ’13; the 114th running of the Bashford Manor (GIII) for 2-year-olds at six furlongs; and the $100,000 Debutante for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs, which is being carded one week later than recent renewals.
Other stakes races scheduled during the Spring Meet: the 78th running of the $100,000 Louisville Handicap (GIII), a 1 ½-mile grass marathon for 3-year-olds and up on Saturday, May 23; the 12th running of the $100,000 Winning Colors (GIII), a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25; the $100,000 Aristides (GIII), a six-furlong dash for 3-year-olds and up on Saturday, May 30; and the $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap (GIII) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf on Saturday, June 6 (formerly known as the Early Times Mint Julep Handicap).
Recapping the 2015 Spring Meet stakes schedule changes:
- The Derby Trial was moved from Opening Night to Kentucky Derby Day, renamed the $200,000 Pat Day Mile (GIII) and boosted by $50,000;
- The $100,000 William Walker, a new six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds, was created for the Opening Night program on Saturday, April 25;
- The $400,000 Alysheba (GII), a 1 1/16-mile race for 4-year-olds and up on Kentucky Oaks Day, received a $100,000 purse hike;
- The $200,000 Eight Belles (GIII), a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies on Kentucky Oaks Day, was bumped up $25,000;
- The $150,000 Edgewood Presented by Forcht Bank (GIII), a 1 1/16-mile turf test for 3-year-old fillies on Kentucky Oaks Day, was awarded Grade III status for the first time by the American Graded Stakes Committee;
- The $500,000 Churchill Downs (GII), a seven-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and up on Kentucky Derby Day, received a $100,000 purse hike;
- The Early Times Mint Julep Handicap has been renamed the $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile grass race for fillies and mares on Saturday, June 6; and
- The $100,000 Debutante, a six-furlong sprint for 2-year-old fillies, was moved to Closing Night on Saturday, June 27, which is one week later than its most recent renewals.