Track Superintendent David Lehr will retire from that Churchill Downs Racetrack (CDRT) post at the end of May, concluding a career that spanned more than 43 years with the home of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI). Lehr will be succeeded by Assistant Track Superintendent James “Jamie” Richardson, who will become just the fifth person in 104 years of Churchill Downs history to hold that job when he assumes his new duties in June.
The departure of 61-year-old David Lehr, who has held the post of track superintendent since 2012, means that Churchill Downs will not have a member of the Lehr family on its track maintenance team for the first time in 48 years. David Lehr joined Churchill Downs in 1972 and succeeded his older brother, Raymond “Butch” Lehr, as track superintendent upon his brother’s retirement. Butch Lehr had joined Churchill Downs in 1967 and assumed the duties of track superintendent in 1982.
Lehr’s retirement date is scheduled for May 31, and Richardson will begin work in his new post the following day.
"After a long and distinguished career at Churchill Downs, David Lehr has decided to retire and we wish the very best for him and his family as he enters a new phase of his life,” Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said. “It will seem strange to be without a member of the Lehr family on our team after the combined 88 years of service by David and his brother, Butch. We trust that David will remain active in our industry after he enjoys a little rest, and we deeply appreciate his decades of work and tireless dedication to Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks and our industry’s efforts to provide safe and fair racetracks throughout North America. Our horses and the people who ride them have had few better friends than David Lehr.
“We are very pleased that Jamie Richardson has accepted the opportunity to assume the post of track superintendent upon David Lehr’s departure at the end of May. Jamie had an impressive record on his arrival at Churchill Downs and worked very well with David during his three years here. We’ve been impressed by his work and enthusiasm, and his curiosity to learn about new practices and products that could benefit our ongoing efforts to sustain the worldwide reputation of our racing surfaces for safety and fairness.”
As only the fifth person to hold the post of track superintendent at 141-year-old racing and sports icon, Richardson follows Tom Young, who was appointed as the track’s first track superintendent by legendary General Manager and President Col. Matt Winn in 1911 and held the job for the next 50 years; Thurman Pangburn, who succeeded Young in 1962 and held the post until his retirement in 1981, and the Lehr brothers.
The track superintendent at Churchill Downs oversees the care, maintenance and preparation of the world-famous one-mile dirt surface over which the Kentucky Derby has been run since its debut at a track then known as the Louisville Jockey Club in 1875, and the Matt Winn Turf Course, a seven-furlong grass surface which hosted its first race on April 29, 1987 and has been a key component of a co-record eight visits by the Breeders’ Cup Championships to the Louisville track since 1988.
In Richardson, Churchill Downs will have a new track superintendent who has served in the number two position on its track team since 2012 and a veteran of Triple Crown events. Along with the two Kentucky Derbys he has worked at Churchill Downs, Richardson served as track superintendent for the Maryland Jockey Club (“MJC”) from 1989-2008. The MJC’s tracks include Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, the home of the Preakness Stakes (GI), the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Richardson, a 46 year-old native of Jarrettsville, Md., also served as track superintendent at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. for two years before he joined Churchill Downs.
David Lehr joined the Churchill Downs staff two days after his graduation from Louisville’s DuPont Manual High School in 1967 and, with the exception a stint in the Army in 1973-74, has worked beneath the track’s venerable Twin Spires since then. Even during his military duty, he came home to work with the track crew for the 100th Kentucky Derby in 1974.
Lehr became part of the track maintenance team upon his 1972 arrival at the track, and later served as Director of Operations at Trackside Training Center, which has a six-furlong training track and stabling facilities and is located about five miles from Churchill Downs Racetrack, from 1994 through May 2005. After his service at Trackside, Lehr returned to Churchill Downs and served as assistant track superintendent until he was named to the department’s top post in 2012.
“Churchill Downs has been an important part of my life and the lives of members of my family as long as any of us can remember, so my decision to retire after 43 years is somewhat bittersweet,” David Lehr said. “The decision is, however, the right thing for me and my family, and I’m looking forward to the next step in my life. We have always tried to do things the right way in taking care of our dirt and turf courses, and we’ve been on the lookout for new practices and technology to keep those tracks safe and fair. I’m very proud of our accomplishments and the growth of Churchill Downs racing during my career, and I wish Jamie Richardson the best in this very special job.”
“It’s a wonderful and very special thing to be named to this position at Churchill Downs and it is humbling to realize that only four other individuals have held this post in 104 years,” Richardson said. “It’s special to continue a long relationship with Triple Crown races that included my years of working with Pimlico and the Preakness and my work here at Churchill Downs during the past two runnings of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. I’d like to thank David Lehr for sharing his experience and knowledge during my time as assistant track superintendent at Churchill Downs and I wish him the best in his retirement.
“Many of the best horses in the world compete over our tracks at Churchill Downs, and the Kentucky Derby is the most famous race in North America and one of the greatest races in the world. I’m looking forward to my new responsibilities and the opportunity to work with horsemen and riders from around the world to race in our big events at Churchill Downs. To have this kind of opportunity at Churchill Downs at this time in my life is great honor.”