Headed by the 138th runnings of the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and the $1 million-guaranteed Kentucky Oaks (GI), Churchill Downs’ schedule of stakes races for its April 28-July 1 Spring Meet will feature 24 events, total stakes purses of $7.275 million and an emphasis on ‘big event’ programs that include the first nighttime running of the multi-stakes event headed by the Stephen Foster Handicap, one of America’s top races for older horses.
All but one of the 24 Spring Meet stakes events has achieved graded stakes status, and five are Grade I contests topped by the Kentucky Derby, America’s greatest race, and its companion Kentucky Oaks. The Grade I roster is rounded out by the $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and $300,000-added Humana Distaff, both set for their 26th runnings on the Kentucky Derby Day program, and the Stephen Foster Handicap, which will carry a purse of $400,000-added when it makes its first appearance beneath Churchill Downs’ permanent lights when the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up is run for the 31st time on Saturday, June 16.
The spring schedule of stakes races at Churchill Downs features four multi-stakes race programs. Total stakes purses for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks programs, each featuring six stakes events, will be the largest in the history of those great American races. Six stakes contests on the Derby Day program on Saturday, May 5, offer total purses $3.525 million, up from last year’s then-record of $3.4 million. Overall stakes purses for Kentucky Oaks Day, Friday, May 4, will surpass $2 million for the first time as its half-dozen stakes races are now worth a collective $2.05 million. Oaks Day stakes purses hit the $2 million mark for the first time in 2011, when the value of the Kentucky Oaks, America’s top race for 3-year-old fillies, doubled to $1 million.
The value of stakes purses for the 2012 Spring Meet is down slightly from last year’s of total of $7.325 million for 25 races. Purses for three 2012 races on the popular Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Day programs have been increased, headed by a $100,000 boost for the Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes, a race for 4-year-olds and up at seven furlongs that is now worth $400,000-added. Purses for five Spring Meet stakes races were adjusted downward, including a $100,000 reduction for the Stephen Foster Handicap and a $50,000 decrease for the Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII), a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares ages three and up that is set to return from a one-year hiatus with a $150,000-added purse as one of four stakes races on the Stephen Foster Night program.
Nine of the 12 Spring Meet stakes races outside of its blockbuster Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks programs are scheduled to be run in prime time on a Saturday night.
"Our 2012 Spring Meet Stakes schedule at Churchill Downs is exciting in terms of the high quality events and wonderful possibilities offered to the fans who enjoy those races and the owners, trainers and jockeys who compete in them,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “Our fans who support Churchill Downs racing at our track, through TwinSpires.com and other advance deposit wagering platforms, and at simulcast centers have shown us that they love big-event programs, so we’ve added a fourth multi-race stakes card to the schedule. We’re eager to see how stakes races on each of our four ‘Downs After Dark’ night racing programs enhance those Saturdays of racing under the lights.
“But our stakes purses are basically flat to last year’s total, and we’ve had to do some adjusting within our available purse funds to make the overall schedule of our top races as attractive as possible to both horsemen and racing fans. The schedule continues to offer strong events in every division of horses, but the lack of growth in those purses continues to reflect the challenges Churchill Downs and Kentucky’s horse industry face in the continued growth of direct gaming competition from neighboring and other racing markets that benefit from gaming revenues.”
The 2012 Spring Meet will kick off on Saturday, April 28 with the “Opening Night” celebration under the lights that launches both the spring racing session and Kentucky Derby Week. The evening’s racing highlight is the 88th running of the $200,000-added The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (Grade III), the one-mile race for 3-year-olds that is the final major prep for the Kentucky Derby. Last year’s debut of “Opening Night” attracted 38,142 fans, which was the largest crowd in the short history of night racing beneath the Twin Spires and a record for a non-Derby/Oaks/Breeders’ Cup program.
All four night racing programs during the Spring Meet are scheduled on Saturdays and will, for the first time, feature graded stakes races along their array of “Downs After Dark” dining and entertainment options.
A quartet of stakes races with total purses of $750,000 is set for the Stephen Foster Handicap “Downs After Dark’ night racing program on Saturday, June 16. Along with its main event and the return of the Fleur de Lis, Stephen Foster Night will offer a pair of Grade III contests in $100,000-added Matt Winn, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds, and the $100,000-added Regret for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on grass. A trio of $100,000-added stakes races is set for the “Downs After Dark” celebration on Saturday, June 2. And the “Downs After Dark” finale on Saturday, June 30 will feature the historic 111th running of the $100,000-added Bashford Manor (GIII) for 2-year-olds at six furlongs.
Other changes in the purse or status of races on the 2012 Spring Meet stakes schedule include:
- Purse hikes for two Kentucky Derby Day stakes races: a $100,000 boost to the Churchill Downs Stakes (GII) making it worth $400,000-added, and a $25,000 increase for Twin Spires Turf Sprint Presented by GE - Appliances & Lighting (GIII), which now has a purse of $125,000;
- The $300,000-added Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables on Kentucky Oaks Day has been elevated to Grade II status, and the purse for the ungraded Edgewood Presented by Kentucky Naational Insurance on the same day has jumped to $150,000-added, an increase of $50,000;
- The purse for the Firecracker Handicap (GII), the featured event on the meet’s closing day program on Sunday, July 1, has been reduced by $25,000 to $150,000-added;
- Purses for the $100,000-added Regret and $100,000-added Matt Winn on Stephen Foster Night were reduced by $25,000 each;
- Two stakes run in 2011 – the $100,000-added Dogwood (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies and the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds on turf – are on hiatus for at least a year.