The biggest summer parties in Louisville return in earnest to Churchill Downs on Saturday night at 6 p.m. ET as the home of the Kentucky Derby welcomes back its wildly-popular nighttime racing series, “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka.
The well-attended nighttime programs, which offer the perfect blend of an upscale night on the town with the excitement of Thoroughbred racing, return with a twist. They have a new home on the calendar and the quality of racing has been elevated.
Previously staged on Fridays over the final three weeks of the Spring Meet, Downs After Dark will be tested on every other Saturday night in June (June 2, June 16 and June 30). Also, the marquee entertainment events have been paired with stellar graded stakes racing action for the first time.
Saturday’s 11-race program includes a graded stakes tripleheader, and the June 16 program will feature four graded stakes races cumulatively worth $750,000, topped by the Grade I, $400,000 Stephen Foster Handicap. The June 30 finale will showcase rising 2-year-old stars in the Grade III, $100,000 Bashford Manor.
“We’re eager to see how stakes races on each of our ‘Downs After Dark’ night racing programs enhance those Saturdays of racing under the lights,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack.
The elements that have made the Downs After Dark parties special – the cuisine, fashion, style, music and entertainment – are back, and each of this year’s evening racing extravaganzas will have unique concepts: Remix (June 2) featuring bold colors with a nod to the 1980s; Desert Oasis (June 16) showcasing ornate gold, ambers, oranges and purples with a Middle Eastern feel; and The White Party (June 30), a white-hot party in which guests are encouraged to wear an all-white wardrobe.
Renowned and captivating DJs and bands will entertain paddock party-goers with some of the hottest dance music. Saturday night’s season premiere will showcase the return of the popular VJ 2nd Nature (8:30 p.m. to midnight) and Cincinnati-based cover band Off The Hook (4-8:30 p.m.).
Admission gates will open at 4 p.m. and the first of 11 live races will begin at 6 p.m. (all times Eastern). The final race will be after 11 p.m. and the on-track party will continue in the paddock until midnight.
‘DOWNS AFTER DARK’ AT A GLANCE
Featured Stakes Races
Saturday, June 2
Bold splashes of color ranging from neon to primary colors with a nod to the 1980s. The facility will have an urban feel with chain link fences, brick walls and graffiti.
Stakes Tripleheader Totaling $300,000
$100,000 Aristides (GIII)
$100,000 Winning Colors (GIII)
$100,000 Early Times Mint Julep H. (GIII)
Off the Hook (4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.)
VJ 2nd Nature (8:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.)
Break dancing crews
Saturday, June 16
Influenced from Middle Eastern countries: ornate gold details, lush fabrics in hues of ambers, oranges and purples. Moroccan cabana around Aristides Garden, intimate cabanas, Moroccan rugs, lanterns, henna tattoo artists, belly dancers and sitar players.
Four Stakes Totaling $750,000
$400,000 Stephen Foster H. (GI)
$150,000 Fleur de Lis (GII)
$100,000 Matt Winn (GIII)
$100,000 Regret (GIII)
Featured Band – (4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.)
DJ Rap (8:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.)
Saturday, June 30
The White Party
A white-hot party in which guests are encouraged to wear an all-white wardrobe. Facility décor will be all-white furniture, mirrored balls and crystals, plus a circular crystal chandelier above the Aristides Garden.
$100,000 Bashford Manor (GIII)
Featured DJ (4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.)
Burning Las Vegas (8:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.)
Saturday’s “Remix” concept will showcase bold splashes of color ranging from neon to primary colors with a nod to the 1980s. The facility will have an urban feel reminiscent of that period with chain link fences, brick walls and graffiti. Also, colored orbs will fill the Aristides Garden in the paddock area, and there will be break dancing crews performing in select locations, including a featured performance in the Trackside Winner’s Circle following Race 5 (7:57 p.m.). Guests are encouraged to dress in bold and vibrant colors.
The Churchill Downs facilities will be adorned by mood lighting, spotlights and seasonal greenery, and colorful bunting will flow throughout the grounds and entrances. With sleek and comfortable conversational seating options, cocktail tables, unique food and beverage stations and music added to the mix, the racetrack – particularly the paddock area – will have the look and feel of an upscale night club. All the while, there will be private parties on the Finish Line Suites and Jockey Club Suites balconies, respectively, with lighted bars and guests dancing to lively music from DJs starting at 7 p.m.
Patrons will have the option to taste non-traditional racetrack offerings, and evening appetites will be satisfied by scrumptious premium dining offerings available for purchase inside Millionaires Row, the Matt Winn Dining Room, Skye Terrace and other locations.
Other ancillary activities include entertainment and interviews hosted by The Voice-Tribune and WHAS-11’s Angie Fenton on the infield video boards and the popular sweepstakes promotion “Bet or No Bet” sponsored by Thorntons (now a “Text to Enter” promotion) in which four lucky on-track patrons will be randomly drawn and faced with a tough decision: to take a $100 Thornton’s gift card or to place a $1,000 win bet on a horse in the upcoming race (Races 6-9).
NIGHT RACING ATTENDANCE & HANDLE AT CHURCHILL DOWNS
Day Date Attendance On-Track Off-Track All-Sources
Saturday April 28, 2012 26,527 $1,596,948 $4,892,867 $6,489,815
Friday Nov. 18, 2011 15,719 $903,050 $5,087,884 $5,990,934
Friday July 1, 2011 27,787 $1,286,037 $4,730,277 $6,016,314
Friday June 24, 2011 25,523 $1,135,869 $4,196,319 $5,332,188
Friday June 17, 2011 23,332 $1,037,812 $3,773,133 $4,810,945
Saturday April 30, 2011 38,142 $2,020,124 $6,844,054 $8,864,178
Friday Nov. 19, 2010 15,583 $966,091 $5,272,088 $6,238,179
Friday July 2, 2010 30,092 $1,499,652 $4,514,865 $6,014,517
Friday June 25, 2010 26,330 $1,280,092 $4,288,637 $5,568,729
Friday June 18, 2010 24,645 $1,226,043 $4,243,045 $5,469,088
Friday June 11, 2010 25,102 $1,393,818 $3,518,333 $4,912,151
Thursday July 2, 2009 33,481 $1,763,341 $4,469,687 $6,233,028
Friday June 26, 2009 27,623 $1,534,308 $4,789,783 $6,324,091
Friday June 19, 2009 28,011 $1,607,759 $4,896,805 $6,504,564
Night racing at Churchill Downs has been a spectacular success. The track experimented with night racing under temporary lights in 2009 and invested $4 million to add permanent lighting – 1,012 fixtures atop 50 poles and 25 rooftop structures – in 2010. The move has proved to be popular as more than 367,000 core customers, casual patrons and entertainment-seekers have attended the 14 special nighttime programs. Since its debut, 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 10 summertime Downs After Dark programs has been 27,193, compared to a Friday afternoon program that typically averaged 7,500 patrons. Downs After Dark on-track handle has averaged $1,376,473, while all-sources handle, which includes betting from off-track betting and advance deposit wagering outlets, has averaged $5,718,562.
Last year, Churchill Downs created a stand-alone Saturday night event to kick-start the Spring Meet and Kentucky Derby Week. Simply billed as “Opening Night,” the prime-time program was a rousing success and lured an unprecedented 38,142 fans, which was the largest crowd for a Churchill Downs racing program other than a Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks or Breeders’ Cup. Attendance skyrocketed 182% from the 13,510 that attended the daytime opener in 2010. On-track handle jumped 90% from $1,065,865 to $2,020,124; off-track wagering was up 16% from $5,921,630 to $6,844,054; and all-sources wagering grew 27% from $6,987,495 to $8,864,178.
It isn’t just racing under the stars that have attracted people to the historic racetrack. 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.”
IDEAL WEATHER: PARTLY SUNNY SKIES, 73
According to the National Weather Service, Saturday’s forecast calls for partly sunny skies with a high near 74 and just a 20-percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. The low will be around 56.
LIMITED RESERVED SEATING STILL AVAILABLE FOR SATURDAY NIGHT
There is limited reserved seating still available. Indoor dining packages in the Matt Winn Dining Room and Millionaires Row are $59.90 and include a scrumptious buffet dinner, reserved seat and official program. Outdoor third-floor box seats in sections 314-323 are on sale for $20 and include general admission, a box seat in the third-floor clubhouse and an official program.
‘DOWNS AFTER DARK’ COVER CHARGE IS $10
Cover charge (general admission) to all Downs After Dark events is $10. Holders of shareholders passes or horsemen licenses, as well as select Twin Spires Club members (Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze members only) 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.
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.
All reserved ticket packages are available for purchase online at churchilldowns.com/tickets – Churchill Downs’ convenient online box office platform. Customers can also call the Churchill Downs switchboard at (502) 636-4400. Advance reserved tickets for Saturday night’s event must be purchased by Friday (June 1) at 4 p.m.
SPECIAL DOWNS AFTER DARK PARKING, TRAFFIC PLAN
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). 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 with drop off and pick up at Gate 1. 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.
A total of 92 horses have been entered to compete on Saturday’s 11-race program. The featured graded stakes events will be run consecutively as Races 6-8 starting at 8:30 p.m.
The Bret Calhoun-trained trio of Beat the Blues, Speedacious and Gleaming lead a field of eight fillies and mares entered for the ninth running of the Grade III, $100,000-added Winning Colors, a six-furlong sprint that goes as Race 6 (8:30 p.m.).
The 24th running of the Grade III, $100,000-added Aristides (Race 7 at 9:05 p.m.) is headlined by Grade I-winning millionaire Noble’s Promise, who’ll defend his title in the six-furlong sprint against seven rivals.
Tapitsfly, the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champ, will shoulder top weight of 121 pounds when she faces eight other fillies and mares in the 36th running of the Grade III, $100,000-added Early Times Mint Julep Handicap at 1 1/16 miles over the Matt Winn Turf Course (Race 8 at 9:39 p.m.)
DOWNS AFTER DARK POST TIMES & WAGERING MENU
Race Post Time Wagering Stakes Race
1 6:00 PM WPS EX DD P3 P4
2 6:28 PM WPS EX DD P3
3 6:56 PM WPS EX DD P3
4 7:26 PM WPS EX DD P3 P4
5 7:57 PM WPS EX DD P3
6 8:30 PM WPS EX DD P3 P6 Winning Colors
7 9:05 PM WPS EX DD P3 P5 Aristides
8 9:39 PM WPS EX DD P3 P4 Early Times Mint Julep
9 10:11 PM WPS EX DD P3
10 10:42 PM WPS EX DD
11 11:10 PM WPS EX SH5
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 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2013, and its 2012 Spring Meet is scheduled for April 28-July 1. 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.
- END -