A front-running victory by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s and Three Chimneys Farm’s Gun Runner in the 142nd running of the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I), the promise displayed by rising 2-year-olds in a pair of “Stars of Tomorrow” racing programs, and special events headed by the annual Thanksgiving celebration beneath the Twin Spires ranked high among the many highlights of the 2016 Fall Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack that concluded its 21-day run on Sunday, Nov. 27.
The victory by Gun Runner, third to Reddam Racing LLC’s Nyquist in the 142nd Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and ridden in the Clark by jockey Florent Geroux, made the Steve Asmussen-trained colt the first 3-year-old and Derby participant to return to Churchill Downs to win its Fall Meet centerpiece since Willis Horton’s Will Take Charge did it in 2013 on his way to an Eclipse Award that honored him as that year’s champion 3-year-old male.
Gun Runner shared the Fall Meet spotlight with Whitham Thoroughbreds’ LLC’s McCraken, who emerged as a major contender for the 2017 Kentucky Derby with a 1 ½-length victory in the 90th running of the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII), a highlight of Churchill Downs’ “Stars of Tomorrow II” program on the meet’s penultimate day. The victory made the Ian Wilkes-trained son of Ghostzapper the only two-time stakes winner of the meet following an earlier victory in the $80,000 Street Sense Overnight Stakes on the “Stars of Tomorrow I” program on Oct. 30. McCraken’s victory under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. earned the colt 10 points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” Prep Series, part of the point system that will determine the participants in next spring’s “Run for the Roses” at the Louisville track on Saturday, May 6.
Coffeepot Stables’ homebred 2-year-old filly Farrell also impressed in a front-running six-length victory the 73rd running of the $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes (GII) on the “Stars of Tomorrow II” program. The daughter of Malibu Moon – trained by Wayne Catalano and ridden by Channing Hill, the trainer’s son-in-law – earned 10 “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” Prep Series points for her win in the Golden Rod.
The 127th Fall Meet at the historic home of the Kentucky Derby opened on Sunday, Oct. 30 and benefitted from unseasonably warm and dry weather during most of the 2016 session. The main track was rated “fast” on each of the meet’s 21 racing days and all of its scheduled turf races were run over that surface throughout the meet – a rare, if not unprecedented, occurrence during the track’s fall racing session.
Along with its on-track excitement, the 2016 Fall Meet was memorable for special events highlighted by its Thanksgiving annual celebration, in which more than 7,000 turkey dinners with holiday trimmings, were served in dining areas around the track. The Thanksgiving dining beneath the Twin Spires has been a tradition at Churchill Downs since 1969. Other special events during the meet included a “Trick or Treat at the Track” Halloween celebration on Oct. 30, Family Adventure Day Presented by Kroger on Nov. 6 and “Who’s The Champ” handicapping contests on select Sundays.
“The positive results of our Fall Meet were underscored by the smiles on the faces of on-track guests that we encountered throughout its 21 days of racing,” Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said. “Those faces ranged from the youngsters who visited us during our Halloween and Family Adventure Day celebrations to the generations of family members who joined us for Thanksgiving at our track, as they have done for decades. Our gratitude extends to horsemen who enthusiastically supported our daily racing and stakes programs, and our fans – on-track, online via TwinSpires.com and other platforms, and at simulcast centers throughout North America – for their ongoing strong support of Fall Meet racing at Churchill Downs.”
The size of the average Fall Meet race field dipped slightly to 8.9 starters, down 5% from the average of 9.4 in 2015, but higher than the average field sizes of 8.5 in 2014 and 8.8 in 2013. The meet consisted of 222 races comprised of 1,985 starters, a total that reflected a decrease of 5.4% from the 2,099 starters in the Fall Meet of 2015, a meet that featured 223 contests.
The on-track exploits by equine and human stars were key components of a strong daily racing product during the meet. Total purses paid during the 21-day session rose to $10,067,188 from purses of $9,882,559 offered during the 2015 meet, which consisted of the same number of racing days. Average daily purses paid rose to $479,290, a 1.9% increase from the $470,598 average from the previous year.
Churchill Downs’ newest wager – the 20-cent minimum Single 6 Jackpot – continued its popularity with on-track and simulcast racing fans in its second year. There were no single perfect tickets on any of the first 20 days of the meet, which resulted in a total Single 6 wagering pool of more than $800,000 on the meet’s final day. There were no individual perfect tickets in the closing day Single 6 wagering, so the pool was divided among six winning bettors who correctly selected all six winners and collected payouts of $117,758.
Jockey Corey Lanerie pulled away over the final two days of the Fall Meet to secure honors as “Leading Rider” of the Fall Meet with a total of 31 wins. The title was Lanerie’s 12th Churchill Downs riding crown. The 42-year-old native of Lafayette, La. is now tied with Hall of Fame jockey Don Brumfield for the second most local riding championships behind 34-time local riding leader Hall of Fame legend Pat Day.
Runners-up Hernandez and Julien Leparoux each had 24 victories, with Robby Albarado in fourth with 17 wins.
Hernandez enjoyed his finest racing meet at Churchill Downs as his victory total included five stakes wins and four that occurred over three days of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Along with victories by McCraken in the Kentucky Jockey Club and Street Sense, Hernandez won the $200,000 Mrs. Revere (GII) aboard Whitham Thoroughbreds LLC’s Linda, the $100,000 River City Handicap (GIII) with Randy Bloch, Phil Milner, John Seiler and Amtietam LLC’s Thatcher Street and the $80,000 Dream Supreme Overnight Stakes on Carl R. Moore Management LLC’s 3-year-old filly Finley’sluckycharm. Hernandez led all jockeys with earnings of $1,232,608 during the meet.
Mike Maker earned his fourth Fall Meet “Leading Trainer” title as he saddled 16 winners during the meet. The Fall Meet crown lifted Maker’s overall total for Churchill Downs training titles to six. Brad Cox and Wilkes tied for second with 10 winners each, and were followed by Eddie Kenneally’s eight wins and Rusty Arnold and Chris Richard, each of whom saddled seven winners. Wilkes’ four stakes wins during the session led all trainers, and he led all trainers with meet earnings of $701,873.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the all-time leaders in victories by an owner at Churchill Downs, earned their record 28th “Leading Owner” crown to complete a sweep of those titles in Churchill Downs’ three 2016 racing meet. Horses owned by the Ramseys won six races during the meet. The Nicholasville, Ky. couple has won an unprecedented 460 career races beneath the Twin Spires, a total that is more than double the 206 wins tallied by Overbrook Farm, their nearest competitor.
Maggi Moss finished second in the “Leading Owner” contest as horses carrying her colors won four races, one more that the victory totals for group of seven owners that tied for third.
Other racing highlights of the Fall Meet included a victory by Churchill Downs Racing Club’s Warrior’s Club in the first running of the $300,000 Spendthrift Stallion Stakes, a race restricted to 2-year-olds sired by stallions standing at Central Kentucky’s famed Spendthrift Farm created through an innovative partnership between the farm and Churchill Downs. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas saddled the winner for the Churchill Downs-sponsored club that consists of 200 members who paid $500 each to experience the excitement of Thoroughbred ownership. Warrior’s Club returned to finish third in the Kentucky Jockey Club to earn two points and a spot on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard.
The Elkstone Group’s Lady Fog Horn, the reigning Indiana-bred "Horse of the Year', scored her first stakes victory in a graded stakes event and open company in a Thanksgiving Day victory in the 101st running of the Grade II, $200,000 Falls City Handicap; Miller Racing LLC’s Kiss to Remember invaded from Florida to win the $200,000 Chilukki (GII) for trainer Martin Wolfson; Richard and Bert Klein’s Cash Control earned her second Churchill Downs’ stakes victory of the year with an easy win in the $100,000 Cardinal Handicap (GIII) on turf; Alice Mettler’s Hay Dakota scored 29-1 upset in the $100,000 Commonwealth Turf (GIII); James M. Miller’s 2-year-old Lovely Bernadette prevailed in the $80,000 Rags to Riches Overnight Stakes and Doubledown Stables’ Recount won the $80,000 Bet On Sunshine Overnight Stakes.