Jockey Julien Leparoux, trainer Mike Maker and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey concluded their assault on the Churchill Downs record book in scoring dazzling victories their respective categories as the 26-day Fall Meet at the historic home of the Kentucky Derby concluded on Saturday, Nov. 29.
Leparoux earned his fourth title as "leading jockey" at the Louisville track with four victories on the meet's closing day that brought his record victory total for the autumn racing session to 63. Maker collected his first "leading trainer" title at the Louisville track after saddling a record 31 Fall Meet winners that included two on the meet's final day. The Ramseys earned a record 14th "leading owner" crown as horses owned by the Nicholasville, Ky. couple won 24 races. It was their seventh Fall Meet crown, which pulled them into a tie with the late John Franks for most fall titles.
The meet was characterized by large fields of competitive horses and ended with special moments for two of Thoroughbred racing's outstanding older horses. Einstein completed a remarkable year at Churchill Downs when the Helen Pitts-trained son of 1985 Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner Spend a Buck upset heavily favored Commentator in the 135th running of the $400,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Yum Brands (GII) on Friday, Nov. 28. Einstein completed a rare double as he became the first horse to notch victories in the Clark and the $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI), two of Churchill Downs' most prestigious races. His spectacular year at the Louisville track also included a second-place finish behind reigning "Horse of the Year" Curlin in the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and was runner-up to Grade I winner Thorn Song in the $200,000-added Firecracker Handicap (GII) on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Curlin, based at Churchill Downs for trainer Steve Asmussen for much of his spectacular racing career, was the recipient of a special send-off on the meet's final day as the 4-year-old son of Smart Strike was paraded before the track's fans for a final time. Curlin, who finished third to Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, became the first North American horse to surpass $10 million in career earnings in a career that included wins in the 2007 Preakness (GI) and $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) and the 2008 renewal of the $6 million Dubai World Cup.
The runaway winners of the trio "human" races during the Fall Meet comprised a formidable team as Leparoux was the first-call rider for Maker, who trains approximately 60 horses for the Ramseys. Of the Ramseys' 24 winners, all but two were trained by Maker.
The Fall Meet performance Leparoux, 25-year-old native of Senlis, France, continued his remarkable ascent through the ranks of the top jockeys in the United States. Leparoux first appeared at Churchill Downs as an apprentice jockey during the 2004 Fall Meet and notched just one win from 10 starts. He was atop the leading rider standings from the 2008 meet's opening day on Oct. 26 on the way to eclipsing legendary jockey Pat Day's record of 55 Fall Meet victories established in 1984 by the Hall of Fame jockey and all-time leading rider under the Twin Spires.
Leparoux's biggest day of the meet came on Tuesday, Nov. 11 when he notched seven wins in nine starts - winning on each of his first seven mounts during the afternoon - to tie Day's record for wins in a single day at Churchill Downs. Day won seven races from eight mounts on June 20, 1984.
Robby Albarado, winner of the track's Spring Meet riding crown, finished second to Leparoux with 41 wins. Kentucky Derby-winning jockeys Calvin Borel and Kent Desormeaux tied for third with 21 victories. Brandon Meier won five races to finish as the meet's leading apprentice jockey.
Maker, a former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, continued his breakout year with his dominant performance in the Fall Meet. The 39-year-old son of the late trainer George Maker completed the Fall Meet with 31 wins, a total that demolished the previous record 20 victories established by Dale Romans during a 27-day Fall Meet of 2003. Ken McPeek finished second with 18 wins, while Romans came in third with 15 victories. Along with collecting his first "leading trainer" crown at Churchill Downs, Maker's year has included fall training titles at Keeneland and Turfway Park, and he earned the training crown at the Winter-Spring Meet at Turfway.
The Ramseys are now competing only against themselves when it comes to the record for "leading owner" titles under the Twin Spires. But their final tally of 24 wins during the 26-day meet nearly doubled the previous Fall Meet record of 15 victories set by T. Alie Grissom during a 23-day session in 1965. So thorough was the dominance by the red-and-white clad Ramsey horses that the stable threatened the record for wins in the track's much longer Spring Meet. That record belongs to A.J. Foyt Jr., whose horses won 27 races during the track's 93-day Spring Meet in 1984.
Maggi Moss finished second in total victories during the meet with eight wins, and Zayat Stables, LLC earned six victories.
The Fall Meet at Churchill Downs continued its tradition of offering large and competitive fields for races throughout its 26-day run. A total of 2,557 horses competed in 268 races for an average of 9.5 starters per race.
Other outstanding equine performances during the 2008 Fall Meet included victories on closing day by John C. Oxley's Beethoven in the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and a romp by Dolphus Morrison's homebred Rachel Alexandra in the $150,000-added Golden Rod for 2-year-old fillies. Rachel Alexandra rolled to a 4 ¾-length victory in a stakes record 1:43.08 for 1 1/16 miles. Calvin Borel rode both closing day winners, along with Domino Stud's Miss Isella in the $150,000 Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day.
Other outstanding stakes performers during the meet included the regally bred Acoma, a daughter of Empire Maker who won the Mrs. Revere (GII) for 3-year-old fillies on turf; Nistle's Crunch, who rallied for an upset win in the Commonwealth Turf (GIII) for 3-year-olds; the Todd Pletcher-trained veteran Leah's Secret won the Chilukki (GII) for older fillies and mares; while record-setting trainer Steve Asmussen notched his only stakes win of the meet when the veteran Magna Graduate won the Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) on the meet's opening day. Bill Mott, Churchill Downs' all-time leader in victories and stakes wins by a trainer, lifted his career stakes total to 75 when Indescribable won the Cardinal (GIII) for fillies and mares on turf. The River City Handicap (GIII) for 3-year-olds and up on turf finished in a rare dead heat as Karelian and Demarcation finished on even terms after 1 1/8 miles.