The atmosphere of Churchill Downs and fashion choices by its racing fans will reflect the sights and sounds of the Middle East as the historic track is transformed into a “Desert Oasis” for the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka celebration on Saturday, June 16, with spectacular on-track action highlighted by the meeting of many of the nation’s top horses in four stakes races headed by the 31st running of the $400,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I).
The Stephen Foster Handicap, one of Churchill Downs’ most important and prestigious races, will be run under the lights for the first time and is one of four stakes races on Saturday’s 11-race program. Post time for the first race is 6 p.m. (all times Eastern) and admission gates open at 4 p.m.
General admission is $10 for the “Downs After Dark” program and patrons must be 18 or over or accompanied by a responsible adult to gain admission.
Some seating for “Downs After Dark” dining remains available on the 4th floor of the Skye Terrace, and box seats are also available for purchase. Seating can be purchased through Churchill Downs’ online box office at www.ChurchillDowns.com/tickets or by visiting the historic track’s on-track box office at Gate 1, located off Central Avenue adjacent to the Kentucky Derby Museum. Both also offer seating and tickets for all other racing days and events scheduled for the track’s Spring Meet, which continues through Sunday, July 1.
Churchill Downs’ on-track box office is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the exception of Friday hours of noon to 6 p.m. Hours for Saturday’s “Downs After Dark” celebration and the final Spring Meet night racing program on Saturday, June 30, will run from noon to 9 p.m.
Music is a major part of the “Downs After Dark” celebration and the Paddock Stage will feature Siren, an eclectic collection of musicians from across the country, through the early evening. The live music gives way just before 9 p.m. to the anticipated return of DJ Rap, who has been voted the number one female DJ in the world. DJ Rap thrilled “Downs After Dark” fans last summer and returns to entertain between races and, after the evening’s last race has been run, will spin for paddock fans until midnight.
The transformation of the home of the Kentucky Derby into a desert oasis will be achieved through both sound and vision. The evening’s décor will display influences from several Middle Eastern countries in the use of lush fabrics in amber, orange and purple hues with ornate gold detail. A festive Moroccan cabana will be a dominant feature in the Clubhouse Garden, while the track’s balconies will feature intimate cabanas, Moroccan rugs and lanterns.
Balcony visitors will be greeted by belly dancers and sitar players, and the Clubhouse balcony will feature the sounds of the Amir El Saffar Ensemble, a New York-based collection of musicians that includes a sitar player.
Along with new sights and sounds of the evening’s “Desert Oasis” theme, the “Downs After Dark” program will again feature the popular “Bet or No Bet” game. Fans will be able to register for “Bet or No Bet” via text as they enter the track’s admission gates 1, 10 and 17.
The historic nighttime running of the Stephen Foster Handicap is joined on Saturday evening’s ‘Downs After Dark” schedule by the $150,000 Fleur De Lis Handicap (GII), the $100,000-added Matt Winn Stakes (GIII) and the $100,000-added Regret Stakes (GIII). This year’s running of the Stephen Foster is also the first in which the race is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series. The winner of the Foster will earn an automatic starting berth in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. The winner’s entry fees to the Championships will be paid by the Breeders’ Cup and the winning stable will receive a $10,000 travel allowance.
While fans will enjoy the “Desert Oasis” ambience and the evening’s unique mix of music and food, Churchill Downs will make it a special night for racing fans as it adds a pair of new items to its wagering menu.
Churchill Downs has added additional Pick 4 and Pick 5 wagers to the star-studded Stephen Foster Handicap “Downs After Dark” racing program. There will be four Pick 4 wagers that evening, with the second of those being an all-stakes Pick 4 that concludes with the Stephen Foster, which is scheduled as the 8th event on the 11-race program. All Pick 4 wagers at Churchill Downs are 50-cent minimum bets. The program will also feature a second Pick 5 wager, which is also a 50-cent bet.
The Stephen Foster Handicap Weekend kicks off Friday afternoon with a Twilight Racing program highlighted by a special “Honky Tonk Happy Hours” celebration featuring country rocker J.D. Shelburne performing on the Paddock Stage from 4-7 p.m. Shelburne has been a big fan favorite in previous appearances beneath the historic Twin Spires that included a performance at the track’s HullabaLOU Music Festival.
Friday’s “Honky Tonk Happy Hour” drink specials in the Paddock Garden area include a $3 Stella Artois Draft Beer (16 oz.) from 4-7 p.m. Post time for the first of 11 races on the Twilight Racing program is 2:45 p.m. Admission gates will open at 1:30 p.m.
The special weekend wraps up with on Sunday, June 15 with 10 live races and the Paddock Pavilion will be the scene of more Family Fun Days activities Presented by Kroger from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Family Fun Days offer very special Sunday for the entire family, with attractions that include HorseRacing Bingo, Junior Jockey Club activities; story time; a walking tour of the Kentucky Derby Museum to visit with Winston, its resident miniature horse and more.
Admission gates open on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and first race post time is 12:45. p.m.