Churchill Downs Racetrack today announced that Mike Battaglia, who since 1997 has served as the host and racing analyst for the track’s televised simulcast signal, would be leaving that role prior to the start of Churchill Downs’ 134th Spring Meet. Battaglia will continue as odds maker for the home of the Kentucky Derby® and will also serve as back up simulcast host and back up track announcer. Battaglia has set morning line odds for Churchill Downs and all of its marquee races since 1974. He also served as track announcer for 20 years, from 1977 to 1997.
“Working with Churchill Downs these many years has been a great pleasure, and I’ve really enjoyed helping to educate race fans on track and in simulcast outlets around the country about race handicapping and picking winners,” Battaglia said. “For many years I have been commuting between Louisville and Northern Kentucky where my home is located, and the daily travel has become burdensome for me. My new arrangement will allow me to do my work as odds maker for Churchill Downs remotely. It also allows me to continue my work as a commentator for NBC Sports on racing’s biggest days without the scheduling conflicts that arose when I also served as Churchill Downs’ simulcast host. It is bittersweet to be moving on, but I look forward to this new arrangement and to still playing a major role in Churchill Downs’ daily operations by setting the morning line for the track’s races, including the world famous Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.”
Jill Byrne, who has filled in as Churchill Downs’ racing analyst on occasions when Battaglia was not available, will assume the role on a regular basis beginning Saturday, April 26, opening day of Churchill Downs’ 2008 live racing season. In addition, Byrne will again join Churchill Downs Vice President of Racing Communications John Asher as co-host of “Churchill Downs Today,” a daily handicapping show that airs live Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the racing season at 11 a.m. EDT in select simulcast outlets nationwide. The program also airs on a replay basis at Churchill Downs Racetrack prior to the start of live racing and can be viewed throughout the day on Churchill Downs’ Web site, www.churchilldowns.com.
Since 2001, Byrne has distinguished herself as an on-air racing analyst and reporter national horse racing channel Television Games Network (“TVG”) and will continue to work for TVG when Churchill Downs is not conducting live racing. In addition to serving as a substitute simulcast host for Churchill Downs, Byrne has participated as a regular handicapper and blogger for Kentuckyderby.com, the official Web site of the Kentucky Derby, and she authors the “Race Review” portion of Churchill Downs’ daily racing program.
An accomplished horsewoman, Byrne worked with her husband, trainer Patrick Byrne, to condition 1997 Eclipse Award-winning juvenile horses Favorite Trick (Horse of the Year) and Countess Diana (Two-Year-Old Champion Filly), as well as the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Awesome Again. Byrne started her career in horse racing as an exercise rider and assistant to her father, Peter Howe, who also trained two Eclipse Award-winning horses.
“We welcome Jill Byrne to her new role and trust that she will soon become a fan favorite with horseplayers in Kentucky and around the country,” said Jim Gates, general manager of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “We will certainly miss working with Mike Battaglia. Our customers enjoyed his commentary, and Mike left big shoes to fill. But we are confident that Jill is up to the challenge and will bring all of the handicapping prowess she’s developed as an experienced horsewoman and television analyst to her new assignment with our simulcast production team.”
One responsibility that will not fall to Byrne will be that of host for Churchill Downs’ daily race replay program, which will no longer be produced. The program, which aired on Insight Communications channels in Louisville and Lexington, was comprised of video replays and related wagering data from each of the contests on the track’s daily race card.
“With the advent of national horse racing channels and live video streaming on our network of Web sites – including Churchilldowns.com and TwinSpires.com, our company’s official account-wagering site – our customers have a variety of ways to watch Churchill Downs’ races live or on replay basis at no cost,” Gates said. “Consequently, we made the decision to discontinue our race replay show and redirect the resources needed to produce that program toward our daily handicapping show, ‘Churchill Downs Today,’ which gives race fans useful information they can use to make wagering selections before the race day begins.”
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 3, 2008. The track’s 2008 Spring Meet runs from April 26 through July 6. Churchill Downs has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record six times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.churchilldowns.com.