With five sensational graded stakes races cumulatively worth more than $1.2 million and a bevy of entertainment before and during the races, Saturday’s popular Reunion Day program at Churchill Downs promises to be action packed on and off the racetrack.
Inaugurated a decade ago, Reunion Day, who many have nicknamed “Stephen Foster Super Saturday,” is a day-long celebration of the past and present with multiple stakes offerings centered around the track’s signature event for older horses, the Grade I, $660,000 Stephen Foster Handicap.
The 28th running of the 1 1/8-mile test, which has helped crown Horse of the Year on four occasions, lured America’s top older horse. Einstein, who sits atop the Week 15 NTRA Thoroughbred Poll conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, is the 2-1 morning line favorite for this year’s marquee event and he’ll make a run at history.
The 7-year-old horse will attempt to become the first horse to win three consecutive Grade I races on three surfaces and a millionaire three times over (the $396,924 first prize would boost Einstein’s career earnings to $3,006,828). This year, he’s won Santa Anita Handicap over the synthetic Pro-Ride surface and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic over the Matt Winn Turf Course on Kentucky Derby Day.
Einstein has a stiff challenge as the field of eight cumulatively boasts 21 graded stakes wins. Top opponents include international star Asiatic Boy-ARG, who’ll make his U.S. debut in the Foster; multiple Grade II champ Arson Squad, who’ll be ridden by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez; and the flashy West Virginia invader Researcher, who’ll be piloted by red-hot Calvin Borel.
Appropriately, the star-studded racing program will be accompanied by several special events for racing fans of all ages. They include:
¨ Between race salutes and trophy presentations to winning connections of this year’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks (the Oaks presentation will be after Race 4 at 2:21 p.m. and the Derby presentation will follow Race 5 at 2:53 p.m.), plus free autograph sessions with the Derby and Oaks victorious owners, trainers and jockey Calvin Borel;
¨ An appearance by famed horse racing cartoonist Pierre “Peb” Bellocq, who’ll be onsite to update his colorful Derby-winning jockey and trainer murals and sign purchased prints of those popular works;
¨ A special pre-race handicapping seminar and breakfast featuring a panel of horse racing experts;
¨ A free question and answer session with leading rider Julien Leparoux;
¨ Entertainment by The Stephen Foster Singers inside Gate 10 and live music by Artie Dean Harris in the paddock area;
¨ A petting zoo, pony rides, face painting and games for children at the track’s Junior Jockey Club;
¨ A between-race $100,000 check presentation by Churchill Downs Incorporated to Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for funds raised at this year’s Kentucky Oaks (immediately after Race 6 at approximately 3:25 p.m.); and
¨ A special invitation-only “TwinSpires Day at Churchill Downs” in Skye Terrace 4 and Sections 115-116 for a select group of TwinSpires.com account holders.
Churchill Downs will open admission gates Saturday at 11:30 a.m. (all times EDT) with the first of 11 live races scheduled for 12:45 p.m. Early arrivals can take part in free autograph sessions and/or handicapping seminars.
Borel, who scored a rare Oaks-Derby sweep aboard Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, respectively, will be available to sign free autographs from 11:30 a.m. to about noon on the second floor of the clubhouse in front of Peb’s jockey mural. Meanwhile, Mine That Bird’s trainer Chip Woolley and owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach and Rachel Alexandra’s former trainer Hal Wiggins and former owners Dolphus Morrison and Michael Lauffer will sign from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and between 3-4 p.m.
Customers also will have an opportunity to learn more about leading rider Julien Leparoux, the regular rider of Einstein. The 25-year-old Frenchman will be racing analyst Jill Byrne’s special guest for Saturday’s “Get in the Game” Handicapping Seminar. The half-hour session – free with general admission – will begin at noon in the paddock area and will feature informative and in-depth analysis of select races and other handicapping topics.
A more in-depth Reunion Day Handicapping Seminar that’ll include race-by-race analysis of each Reunion Day stakes race will take place early Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Paddock Pavilion. For $15, fans will receive admission to the seminar and that afternoon’s races, continental breakfast, a reserved box seat, an official program, a gift bag and an entry into a drawing for door prizes. The expert panel will feature top trainer Dale Romans, Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee, WHAS 84’s Paul Rogers and Churchill Downs’ John Asher and Jill Byrne.
There’s also fun for the entire family. Patrons who enter through Gate 10 will be entertained by The Stephen Foster Singers as they perform the legendary works of the famed composer who wrote “My Old Kentucky Home”. Meanwhile, Artie Dean Harris will play live music in the paddock area between 1-5 p.m.
A petting zoo, pony rides, face painting and games for children aged 3-10 will highlight Saturday’s activities at Churchill Downs’ Junior Jockey Club located near the Guest Services Booth inside Gate 10. The Junior Jockey Club is open every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Churchill Downs’ mascot Churchill Charlie will be on hand for photographs between 2-2:30 p.m. Coloring books, crayons, individual games and reading material are available as well.
Meanwhile, acclaimed Thoroughbred racing cartoonist Pierre Bellocq, better known to generations of horse racing fans as “Peb,” will update his colorful murals that depict every jockey and trainer that have won the Kentucky Derby. Peb will add Woolley to the trainer’s mural and update Borel’s image to reflect two victories as a jockey.
Between 1-2:30 p.m., Peb will be available for autographs and, for the first time, fans can purchase limited edition prints of his masterful trainer’s mural at cost for just $10. Additionally, the first 100 who purchase the trainer’s mural will also receive a complementary print of its 2005 companion piece, the jockey’s mural.
Churchill Downs’ rapid-fire stakes action on Saturday will commence in Race 7 at approximately 3:57 p.m. and will encompass the final five races on the program. The Stephen Foster, carded as Race 10, is scheduled for 5:29 p.m.
According to the National Weather Service, Saturday’s Louisville forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high near 84 degrees. There’s a small 30-percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 2 p.m.
For more information, call (502) 636-4400 or log onto churchilldowns.com.