Cooler temperatures and the leaves changing colors signify the return of live horse racing to the Louisville area as Churchill Downs, the historic home of the Kentucky Derby, readies to open its much anticipated 120th Fall Meet on Sunday, Nov. 1.
The popular 21-day stand, which covers a four-week stretch through Nov. 28, kicks off in style Sunday with “Stars of Tomorrow I” highlighting an 11-race opening-day program that includes a 2010 calendar giveaway, the debut of a new Sunday morning public workout program and a special 2-year-old handicapping seminar and breakfast.
First post, as is the case for most of the meeting, is 12:40 p.m. ET.
Sunday’s fifth annual “Stars of Tomorrow I” program is entirely devoted to rising 2-year-old stars who have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next year’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. In just four years of existence, Stars of Tomorrow has been the launching pad for 15 Grade I winners, including millionaires Rachel Alexandra, Lawyer Ron, Macho Again, Pure Clan, Court Vision, Swift Temper and Any Given Saturday.
A pair of Grade III, $100,000-added stakes events at one mile tops the program, the open Iroquois and Pocahontas for fillies. The 28th running of the Iroquois is a springboard to the Grade II, $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club on closing day, which doubles as “Stars of Tomorrow II”. The 41st edition of the Pocahontas is a steppingstone to the fillies’ Grade II, $150,000-added Golden Rod, which is run on the same Nov. 28 finale.
Throughout the Fall Meet, horsemen will have ample opportunities to uncork promising juveniles or seek year-end graded-stakes glory. All told, 16 stakes races cumulatively worth $2,015,000, which includes a quartet of overnight stakes, will be run during the action-packed Fall Meet.
The anchor of the lucrative stakes program comes Friday, Nov. 27 with the 135th running of the $400,000-added Clark Handicap presented by Norton Healthcare (GII). The 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds and up annually lures some of the top older horses in North America and is one of five major stakes events over Thanksgiving weekend. Stephen Foster champ Macho Again, Meadowlands Cup winner Etched and Indiana Derby victor Misremembered have already been mentioned as early contenders for the tradition-rich race that comes three weeks after the Breeders’ Cup World Championships are run in Southern California.
After Sunday’s opener, live racing will be conducted on a Wednesday-Sunday schedule with dark days on Mondays and Tuesdays. The lone exception is a special closing week additional day of racing on Tuesday, Nov. 24.
Most race days will begin at 12:40 p.m. ET and feature 10 live races. Twelve-race programs that begin early at 11:30 a.m. ET will be showcased over the meet’s final three days that comprise the Thanksgiving holiday weekend: Thursday, Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving Day); Friday, Nov. 27 (Clark Handicap Day); and closing day on Saturday, Nov. 28 (Stars of Tomorrow II).
Bettors are certain to be challenged by the competitive Fall Meet racing that typically pits the fastest and battle-tested horses against the recently freshened year-end bloomers. Meanwhile, Churchill Downs has planned a plethora of events, giveaways and promotions to whet the appetite for casual customers and entertainment-seekers, too.
The first 5,000 fans in attendance on opening day will receive a free 2010 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar, sponsored by Humana, complete with major event listings and vivid and memorable images from the Kentucky Derby and around the historic racetrack.
Also, there are two opening-day events that begin before 11:30 a.m. admission gates open for eager early risers.
“Daybreak at the Downs” – patterned after Kentucky Derby week’s well-attended “Dawn at the Downs” – will take place every Sunday from 8-10 a.m. throughout the Fall Meet. Churchill Downs’ racing analyst Jill Byrne will host the free program and describe the on-track action as hundreds of horses prepare for their upcoming races in morning workouts. Complimentary coffee, donuts and milk will also be served.
Those looking to hone or improve their handicapping skills, particularly with juveniles, are invited to attend a special “Stars of Tomorrow” 2-Year-Old Handicapping Seminar on Sunday, Nov. 1. The price to attend the insightful 9-11:30 a.m. session is $25 and includes breakfast; a trip to the paddock to better understand a 2-year-old’s physical and behavioral characteristics; in-depth tips and analysis of that day’s program by Byrne, jockey Jon Court, trainer Ian Wilkes and workout clocker John Nichols; a raffle for door prizes; and reserved seats in Skye Terrace.
Once fans enter the gates Sunday, they’ll be treated some special opening-day food items, courtesy of Levy Restaurants. They tasty offerings include candy corn, funnel cakes, deep fried Twinkies and deep fried apple pie with caramel sauce. There also will be free samples of new Fall Meet food items such as Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches and Chicken Fried Chicken. To top it off, suites guests will be welcomed back with a champagne toast.
Children age 3-10 are invited to take part in opening day Junior Jockey Club events, which include crafting a foam fall wreath and bingo for prizes. Activities begin at 11:30 a.m. at the Junior Jockey Club near Gate 10, and the children’s favorite area mascot “Churchill Charlie” will make a special visit between 2-2:30 p.m. Junior Jockey Club events will take place every weekend throughout the Fall Meet.
Other Fall Meet promotional highlights include College Scholarship Day on Friday, Nov. 6 that will feature free admission to full-time college students and 10 drawings – one after each race – for $1,000 scholarships.
“Ladies Weekend” on Nov. 14-15 will showcase a ladies only handicapping seminar, unique boutique bazaar and warehouse sale and the second annual celebration of “Horses and Hope” to raise awareness for breast cancer.
Certain to be a hit will be a tribute to fan-favorite jockey Calvin Borel, who swept this year’s Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby aboard Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, respectively. He’ll be honored on the weekend of Nov. 21-22 with a bobblehead giveaway, autograph session, roast and his very own drink special.
Churchill Downs popular “Dress to Impress” Friday Happy Hours, sponsored by Budweiser Select, will return for a three-week run during the Fall Meet on Nov. 6 in the newly refurbished Paddock Pavilion, conveniently located indoors next to the saddling paddock. The area will have a lounge feel with comfortable amenities and music from DJs Ryan Cox (Nov. 6), LadyKillers (Nov. 13) and K-Dogg (Nov. 20). Essential for happy hours, there’ll be $2 drink specials from 3-6 p.m. – one hour longer than recent years. Also, one male and female in attendance each Friday will be chosen as the day’s “most stylish” attendee and will receive $250 gifts certificates to Louisville-area boutiques and fashionable men’s stores.
On opening day, racing fans can pit their handicapping skills against the best Louisville has to offer every Sunday and Wednesday in the popular twice-weekly “Who’s the Champ?” Handicapping Tournament. For a $30 entry fee ($25 for Twin Spires Club members), participants will compete for $4,000 in weekly cash prizes and an invitation to the Nov. 22 final in which the top two finishers will win coveted berths in the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Association National Handicapping Championship XI slated for Jan. 29-30, 2010 in Las Vegas.
General admission to Churchill Downs is $3, but only $1 to senior citizens and members of the track’s Twin Spires Club. Children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking is free in the Longfield Avenue lot (Gates 10 & 12) and $3 in all other lots. Valet parking is $5.
Free seating is available daily over a first-come, first-serve basis in sections 113-118. Premium reserved seats in the Matt Winn Dining Room, Third Floor Box Seats, Millionaires’ Row, Jockey Club Suites, Finish Line Suites and Skye Terrace can be purchased by calling (502) 636-4400.
For more information, call (502) 636-4400.