Louisville’s biggest summer parties return in earnest to Churchill Downs for the final three weeks of the Spring Meet as the historic home of the Kentucky Derby welcomes back its wildly-popular Downs After Dark nighttime racing programs Saturday at 6 p.m. (all times Eastern).
A perfect blend of an upscale night on the town with the excitement of Thoroughbred racing, Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka will take place on the final three Saturdays of the 38-day Spring Meet: June 15, June 22 and June 29.
Admission gates will open each 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 spacious Plaza area until midnight.
The elements that have made the Downs After Dark parties so special over the past four years – the fashion, style, cuisine, music and entertainment – are back, and each of this year’s evening racing extravaganzas will have unique concepts: the third annual “White Party” (Saturday) in which guests are encouraged to wear an all-white wardrobe; “Boots, Brew and BBQ” (June 22) where patrons can kick up their boots and enjoy a Southern-style, country celebration; and “Star-Spangled Night” (June 29), a pre-Fourth of July holiday celebration with lots of red, white and blue.
Like last year, the marquee entertainment events have been paired with stellar graded stakes racing action, starting with Saturday’s popular Stephen Foster Handicap racing program. The million-dollar night of racing includes five stakes races headed by the Grade I, $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (Race 8 at 9:30 p.m.), which has grown to become of America’s most important races for older horses.
The prestigious 1 1/8-mile Foster will be run under the lights in prime time for the second straight year and will showcase many of the nation’s top horses: reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned; Take Charge Indy, the six-length winner of the Alysheba (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day; Successful Dan, the 7-year-old brother of Horse of the Year Wise Dan who has won 8 of his 12 starts including the Ben Ali (GIII) at Keeneland in late April; defending champ Ron the Greek; Travers (GI) winner Golden Ticket; and 2011 Foster champ Pool Play.
In addition to an estimated $300,000 payday, the Foster winner is entitled to an automatic entry into the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. The nominated winner of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Classic Division Challenge Race will have pre-entry and entry fees waived for the 1 ¼-mile Classic and receive a travel stipend of $10,000 if traveling from a location in North America.
Two-time Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (GI) winner Royal Delta will make her return to the races on the undercard to defend her title in the Grade II, $175,000 Fleur De Lis Handicap Presented by Etihad Airways for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles (Race 6 at 8:30 p.m.). This will mark only the fourth time – but first in the winter, spring or summer – that defending Breeders’ Cup Classic and Ladies Classic champs will compete on the same program. The last occurred Sept. 27, 2008 at Belmont Park when Curlin won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and Ginger Punch finished second in the Beldame (GI).
The undercard also will include the $100,000-added Matt Winn (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles (Race 7 at 9:05 p.m.); $100,000-added Regret (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf (Race 9 at 10:11 p.m.); and $100,000-added President of United Arab Emirates Cup (GI) for Arabian 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles (Race 10 at 10:42 p.m.). The latter will be only the second race for that breed in track history.
CHURCHILL DOWNS TRANSFORMED
Saturday’s third annual “White Party” encourages guests to “dress to impress” with an all-white wardrobe. There’ll be a contest in the Plaza for best-dressed female, male, couple and group with prizes to the winners.
The Paddock Pergolas will be decked out in white rose draping, palms and crystal chandeliers. Meanwhile, the dining rooms will be filled with white rose accents, crystal lamps and chandeliers, white chair bands with bling and centerpieces with silk orchids and white gladiolas.
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 new, spacious 30,000-square-foot Plaza area – will have the look and feel of an upscale night club.
Music remains a major part of the Downs After Dark celebration and the Plaza Stage will feature entertainment by Indiana-based Pawnshop Guitar (4-8:30 p.m.) and Ohio cover band Off the Hook (8:45 p.m. to midnight). There also will be music by Tony and the Tanlines on the Clubhouse’s fifth floor balcony and a DJ at the Gate 17 entrance.
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: to place a $1,000 win bet on a horse in the upcoming race or take a $100 Thornton’s gift card. The promotion will be held on Races 6-9.
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. Additionally, a special Finlandia Artic Oasis drink will be sold in a commemorative color-changing cup.
Shane Co. will be on hand to giveaway horsehead bottle openers and RAM Trucks will be on display in various locations around the venue.
ALL-STAKES PICK 4 ON RACES 6-9
While fans will enjoy the evening’s unique mix of music and food, Churchill Downs will make it a special night for racing fans as it features an all-stakes Pick 4 and two Pick 5s on the special wagering menu.
There will be three Pick 4 wagers Saturday night (Races 1-4, 3-6 and 6-9) with the latter an all-stakes Pick 4 that concludes with the Regret. The two Pick 5s will cover Races 2-6 and 5-9. Both the Pick 4 and Pick 5 are 50-cent minimum bets. Meanwhile, the $2 Pick 6 will be held on Races 4-9.
KENTUCKY DERBY TROPHY PRESENTATION
After Race 4 at 7:26 p.m., representatives from the connections of Orb, the winner of the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, will be on hand to accept their engraved Kentucky Derby trophies.
Orb’s Hall of Fame trainer and Lexington, Ky. native Claude “Shug” McGaughey III, as well as jockey Joel Rosario will be on hand to collect the hardware. Also, Rosario has four scheduled rides in stakes events, including Golden Ticket in the Foster.
The Kentucky Derby winner’s trophy and the trophy to the winning breeder will be accepted by Daisy Phipps Pulito, the daughter of Phipps Stable’s Ogden “Dinny” Phipps, on behalf of her family’s stable and Stuart Janney III, a cousin to the Phipps family. The victory by Orb realized the family’s dream of winning the Kentucky Derby that dates to 1928 when Distraction, owned by the Wheatley Stable of Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, ran 13th in the 54th Derby won by Reigh Count.
Also scheduled to take part in the ceremony is Claiborne Farm, the famed Paris, Ky. institution where Orb was bred and raised. Although Claiborne will not receive a trophy, the farm has boarded mares and worked closely with the winning owners for decades and Orb was the 10th horse either bred or raised at the farm to win the Kentucky Derby. The farm will be represented on Saturday by Walker Hancock, son of Claiborne Farm president Seth Hancock.
‘PEB’ TO UPDATE COLORFUL DERBY MURALS
Acclaimed Thoroughbred racing cartoonist Pierre Bellocq, better known to generations of horse racing fans as “PEB,” will update his colorful, masterpiece murals on the second floor of the Clubhouse ITW area that depict every jockey and trainer that have won the Kentucky Derby.
PEB is scheduled to sketch and paint the images of McGaughey and Rosario on Friday and Saturday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
HRTV, HRRN TO BROADCAST LIVE
HRTV – the 24-hour horse racing television network which airs on Insight Communications channel 564 in Louisville, AT&T U-verse channel 672 and DISH Network channel 404 –will be onsite for this year’s Downs After Dark debut with reporter Caton Bredar.
Additionally, hosts Mike Penna and Jude Feld of Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will air coverage of three stakes races, including the Stephen Foster Handicap, from 8-10 p.m. EDT on Sirius 94 and online at www.horseracingradio.net.
IDEAL WEATHER: SUNNY SKIES, 84
According to the National Weather Service, Saturday’s forecast calls for sunny skies with a high near 84 and a minor 20-percent chance of isolated showers and thunderstorms. The low will be around 67.
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 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.
LIMITED RESERVED SEATING STILL AVAILABLE
There is limited reserved seating still available. Indoor dining packages in the Skye Terrace 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 Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on ‘Downs After Dark’ Saturdays).
SPECIAL 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). 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.
EARLY SIMULCAST WAGERING AVAILABLE
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.
The Saturday simulcast 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.), Golden Gate (3:45 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.)
NIGHT RACING SPECTACULAR SUCCESS
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 nearly 475,000 core customers, casual patrons and entertainment-seekers have attended the 19 special nighttime programs. Over the last four years, 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 has been 26,276, compared to a Friday afternoon program that typically averages 7,500 patrons. Downs After Dark on-track handle has averaged $1,371,903, while all-sources handle, which includes betting from off-track betting and advance deposit wagering outlets, has averaged $5,848,053.
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 $1,356,668 and all-sources betting averaged $6,279,691.
A Downs After Dark record all-sources handle of $7,960,789 occurred on Stephen Foster Handicap night a year ago. The on-track crowd of 25,417 bet $1,552,584 while another $6,408,205 was wagered at off-track and advance deposit wagering outlets around the country.
It isn’t just racing under the stars that has 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.”
STEPHEN FOSTER HANDICAP FAST FACTS
Three horses used victories in the Stephen Foster as part of their resumes in Horse of the Year campaigns. The three are Black Tie Affair (1991), Saint Liam (2005) and Curlin (2008). In addition, two runner-ups were crowned Horse of the Year: Mineshaft (2003) and Wise Dan (2012).
Victory Gallop owns the stakes and track record for 1 1/8 miles of 1:47.28 established in 1999.
Pat Day and Robby Albarado have won the Stephen Foster three times to lead all riders. Day’s Foster victories came in 1985 (Vanlandingham), 1998 (Awesome Again) and 2003 (Perfect Drift). Albarado won the race three consecutive years in 2007 (Flashy Bull), 2008 (Curlin) and 2009 (Macho Again).
Two horses have won the Stephen Foster in consecutive years: Vodika Collins (1982-83) and Recoup The Cash (1994-95). Ron the Greek will attempt to become the third. Pool Play also could become a two-time winner, although not in consecutive years.
Three trainers have won the Stephen Foster twice and all did it in consecutive years: Forrest Kaelin (1982-83 with Vodika Collins), Jere Smith Jr. (1994-95 with Recoup The Cash) and Pat Byrne (1997-98 with City by Night and Awesome Again). Byrne will attempt to win his record third Stephen Foster with Take Charge Indy.
Three horses have won the Stephen Foster and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year. Black Tie Affair (1991) and Awesome Again (1998) won both races at Churchill Downs. Saint Liam won his running of the Classic at Belmont Park. The 2013 renewal of the $5 million Classic is scheduled for Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
Curlin (2008) carried the highest impost of any Stephen Foster winner: 128 pounds.
Colonial Colony (2004) carried the lightest winning Foster impost at 111 pounds.
The Stephen Foster Handicap was elevated to Grade I status in 2002.