The complexion of the three racing sessions that comprise the final racing days of Churchill Downs’ 38-day Spring Meet changed drastically in recent days as record heat pushed into the Ohio Valley, but the centerpiece of the meet’s farewell weekend – the return of the popular “White Party” for the final Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka night racing program on Saturday, June 30 – remains intact with only one minor change in schedule.
A forecast of a rare streak of several days of triple-digit temperatures and concerns about possible heat-related issues for horses and humans prompted Churchill Downs officials to cancel the nine-race program on Thursday, June 28 and to move the racing programs of Friday, June 29 and Sunday, July 1 to a nighttime schedule. The result is the first stretch of three consecutive night racing programs since Churchill Downs first introduced racing under temporary lights in 2009 and conducted night racing sessions under a state-of-the-art system of permanent lights beginning the following year.
Saturday’s Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka “White Party” will clearly be the main event of a weekend during which each night racing program will have first-race post time of 6:30 p.m. (all times Eastern). General admission for Saturday’s Downs After Dark program is $10, while the Friday and Sunday evening programs will feature regular $3 general admission. Admission gates will open at 4 p.m. on all three nights, and Chef’s Table© buffets in all dining areas open each evening at 5 p.m.
Saturday’s 11-race Downs After Dark includes a major racing highlight in the 1111th running of the Bashford Manor Stakes (Grade III), while Sunday’s 10-race Spring Meet finale features the Firecracker Handicap (GII), a top race for older horses on the Matt Winn Turf Course. Friday’s kickoff of the final weekend of Spring Meet racing is highlighted by Honky Tonk Happy Hours in the Paddock Garden and Sunday’s finale includes the final session Family Fun Days Presented by Kroger in the Paddock Pavilion.
The historic grounds of Churchill Downs will be adorned in white for the second annual White Party on Saturday, June 30. Fans are encouraged to embrace the “White Party” theme in their attire for the Downs After Dark program. Post time for Saturday’s racing, originally scheduled for 6 p.m., was pushed back 30 minutes.
A large chandelier will be poised above Paddock Garden statue of Aristides, winner of the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, and special lighting and glittering mirror balls will enliven the White Party mood throughout the track as the skies darken and the Churchill Downs lights rise. Trinity, a unique trio that merges the sounds of a DJ with drums other percussion instruments, opens the evening’s entertainment on the Paddock Garden Stage. The explosive Nashville-based Burning Las Vegas – known throughout the South for its mix of three distinctive female voices and tight horn and rhythm sections featuring some of the Music City’s top session players – will take that stage around 9:30 p.m. Burning Las Vegas will close out the White Party as music and dancing continues beneath the glow of the venerable Twin Spires until 12:15 a.m.
Meanwhile, the Clubhouse balcony features the salsa beats of Tattoo Latin Sounds through the night.
Saturday’s Downs After Dark festivities will again include the popular Bet or No Bet Presented by Thorntons on races 6-through-9. Patrons who hope to participate will be able to enter via text message and will be notified on their mobile phones if they’ve been chosen to play in one of the evening’s four Bet or No Bet races. Information on the “Text to Enter” process will be available at admission gates 1, 10 and 17.
All Downs After Dark patrons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent.
General admission to the celebration of Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka is $10. Dining packages and box seats remain available for purchase through the track’s online box office at www.ChurchillDowns.com/tickets or at the on-track box office, which is located at Gate 1 off Central Avenue. The on-track box office will be open from noon to 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 30 for the purchase of “Downs After Dark” tickets and seating.
Tickets, seating and dining for the Friday and Sunday night racing programs can be purchased through the online box office at www.ChurchillDowns.com/tickets or by calling (502) 636-4400. The Gate 1 on-track box office at Gate 1 will be open on both Friday and Sunday from 2-7 p.m.
The Closing Weekend celebration begins Friday evening with the meet’s final Honky Tonk Happy Hours celebration with great music and drink specials from 6:30-9-30 p.m. in the Paddock Garden. Edgewood, one of Kentucky’s premier modern country bands, will perform on the Paddock Garden stage, while drink specials in the paddock area include a $3 Stella Artois Draft Beer (16 oz.).
Churchill Downs’ first “Closing Night” program on Sunday, July 1 is headlined by the $150,000-added Firecracker Handicap for older horses on the grass and the spring’s final edition of Family Fun Days Presented by Kroger in the air conditioned comfort of the Paddock Pavilion.
Family Fun Days offer a very special Sunday at Churchill Downs for the entire family. Sunday’s final Family Fun Days celebration is scheduled to run from 4-8:30 p.m. Track mascot and fan favorite Churchill Charlie will visit the Paddock Pavilion at 6 p.m. and the “Steve-O Magic Show” is set for 6:30.