After opening with a Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Week that set records for attendance and wagering, the Spring Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack (“CDRT”) concluded Saturday, July 2 with a “Downs After Dark” night racing and entertainment program that capped a 38-day session notable for the strength of its daily racing and stakes events, ongoing growth in its “Twilight Thursday” celebrations and other special events, and an embrace by patrons of its $18 million investment in Clubhouse enhancements that included a reimagined and remodeled Turf Club, Director’s Room and Stakes Room.
The Spring Meet concluded Saturday, July 2 with a “Downs After Dark” night racing and entertainment program that attracted 19,621 fans on a weekend packed with Independence Day holiday activities. The entertaining closing night of the track’s 142nd spring racing session provided a strong bookend to a meet that was launched with record results for its six-day Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week that began with its Opening Night “Downs After Dark” celebration and concluded with a record Kentucky Oaks Day and the second-largest total wagering and attendance totals in the 142-year history of the Derby, America’s greatest race.
The meet was the first of three racing meets at Churchill Downs in 2016. The track’s September Meet is scheduled to run from Sept. 16-Oct. 2 and the Fall Meet is set for an Oct. 30-Nov. 27 run.
The meet’s many racing highlights were topped by the authoritative triumph by Reddam Racing LLC’s unbeaten Nyquist in the 142nd running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) on Saturday, May 7. The victory by the son of Uncle Mo provided stable owner J. Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O‘Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez with their second victories, respectively and as a team, in as many attempts in the first jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.
All-Sources wagering on the Kentucky Derby totaled $192.6 million, on-track wagering rose to $23.6 million and on-track attendance on the biggest day in American racing was 167,227. The totals ranked second in their respective categories in the long history of the event that has become known around the world as the “Run for the Roses.”
One day earlier a record Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) crowd of 124,589 witnessed the victory by Cash Is King LLC’s Cathryn Sophia in the 142nd of America’s top race for 3-year-old fillies. It was the first Kentucky Oaks triumph for the owner, trainer John Servis and jockey Javier Castellano. Servis has now earned victories in the greatest races at Churchill Downs, having won the Kentucky Derby in 2004 with Smarty Jones.
Along with the establishment of an attendance record, the Kentucky Oaks celebration was an all-around success as the day resulted record and near-record totals on several business levels. All-sources wagering on the entire Oaks program on Friday, May 6 rose to $49 million, a 6% increase over the previous record established in 2015, while all-sources betting on the Oaks race itself was $15 million, down 2% from the record all-sources handle of $15.2 million a year earlier. On-track wagering of $12 million on the Oaks Day racing program was flat to wagering in 2015, while on-track wagering on the Oaks was a near-record $3 million, a dip of 4% from the 2015 record of $3.1 million.
The celebration of the Kentucky Derby and Oaks began with a record Kentucky Derby Week of six days of racing that began with the Opening Night party on Saturday, April 30 and concluded on Kentucky Derby Day. All-Sources wagering rose to $266.8 million, up 1 percent from the previous record established in 2015, and attracted record-breaking total attendance of 376,980 fans, an increase of 3 percent from the 2015 record.
The Kentucky Derby Week festivities included the unveiling of Churchill Downs’ newest facility upgrades with the introduction of the reimagined remodeled Turf Club, Director’s Room and Stakes Room on the third and fourth floors of the Clubhouse. The results of the $18 million in Clubhouse enhancements were embraced by fans during Derby Week and proved popular throughout the meet. The latest capital project increased the total investment in facilities by Churchill Downs Racetrack since 2001 to nearly $200 million.
“The continued growth and success of the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and the entire Kentucky Derby Week is good news for Churchill Downs and the entire industry, but our team always works hard to extend that success throughout the two months of racing and entertainment that follow Derby Week and there are ample reasons to smile when we consider the results of the entire 38-day Spring Meet,” said Kevin Flanery, President of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “We deeply thank our patrons and the horsemen who worked with us to provide a racing and entertainment product that continued to attract fans and participants throughout the meet and well after the Kentucky Derby and Oaks went into the books for another year. We were encouraged by patron response to our continued upgrade in facilities and exciting new events and traditions like our Twilight Thursdays, and we thank our on-track fans and those wagering at home via TwinSpires.com or at satellite wagering facilities for their ongoing support and enthusiasm for our product at Churchill Downs Racetrack.”
The size of purses and the number of horses in race fields grew during the Spring Meet.
Purses paid in 372 races over 38 days of racing totaled $21,397,556, an increase of 3.9 percent from the 2015 Spring Meet total of $20,601,382. Average daily purses paid during the racing session finished at $563,094, an increase of 3.9 percent from the 2015 Spring Meet average of $542,142. The average purse of a Churchill Downs Spring Meet race was $57,520, up 2.7 percent from $55,982 a year earlier.
The success of Kentucky Derby Week racing resulted in an increase in purses for overnight races during the second half of the Spring Meet. Those purses rose by 4 percent on June 2.
The average size of the field for a Churchill Downs race during the just-completed meet was 8.03 starters per race, which was the highest average for the Spring Meet since 2012. The average field for a race during the 2015 Spring Meet was 7.78 horses, which was an increase from the 7.25 average in 2014.
Along with the stellar performances by the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, other equine stars that shined during the meet include Robert Masterson’s Churchill Downs-based “Horse of the World” Tepin, the 5-year-old mare who won a second consecutive running of the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (GII) on Derby Day for trainer Mark Casse before traveling to England’s famed Royal Ascot to become the first U.S.-based horse to win the Group I Queen Anne Stakes. Other major winners during the Spring Meet included “home team” horses in Gunpowder Farms LLC’s Divisidero, winner of Derby Day’s Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) for Churchill Downs-based trainer William “Buff” Bradley, and Joseph W. Sutton’s Bradester, who scored a surprise win for Churchill Downs-based trainer Eddie Kenneally in the June 18 $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI).
Another Spring Meet highlight was the Single 6 Jackpot, a 20-cent minimum wager that reworked and revitalized the Pick 6 format and concluded with a massive closing night mutuel pool of $2,906,531. With a mandatory payout on the meet’s final program, there were 68 tickets that included the winners of all six races – including three sold on-track at Churchill Downs – and each was worth $38,045. The Single 6 Jackpot started with half of the Pick 6 carryover pool from Kentucky Derby Day and the pool continued to build through the meet as there was no single winner on any of the 30 racing days before closing night’s mandatory payout.
The bet required a single ticket with all six winners for the entire jackpot pool to be paid out on a regular racing day, but proved popular because of its 20-cent minimum bet format, its requirement that 90 percent of each day’s pool be returned to bettors with only 10 percent rolling over to the carryover pool, and a takeout rate on the multi-race wager that was an industry-low 15 percent.
Daily payouts for six winners during the 30-day buildup of the Jackpot pool were generous, including a winning share of $63,292 paid to three Single 6 players on Thursday, June 30.
The “Downs After Dark” racing programs under the Churchill Downs lights remained a popular and durable attraction for fans throughout the region. The Closing Night program on Saturday, July 2 attracted 19,621 fans, following the Opening Night crowd of 19,296 on Saturday, April 30 and the Stephen Foster Handicap program on Saturday, June 18 that drew 19,034.
The race for leading trainer of the just-concluded meet ended in dramatic fashion as Mark Casse swept the closing night stakes races for 2-year-olds to earn the stable’s first training crown since the 1988 Spring Meet. Casse and Mike Maker entered the 38th and final racing program tied at 18 victories, but Casse broke the deadlock with a victory by John C. Oxley’s Classic Empire in the 115th running of the $100,000 Bashford Manor (GIII) and quickly added to the triumph when Oxley’s filly Pretty City Dancer won the 116th Debutante to edge the five-time training champion Maker by a margin of 21-19. The Casse stable, overseen at Churchill Downs by Casse’s son and assistant trainer Norman Casse, ended the meet with an overall record of c1-12-6 in 67 races and earnings of $1,191,778.
Chris Hartman finished third in the Spring Meet training race with 17 wins – a performance highlighted by stakes victories by the veteran Alsvid in the Grade III Aristides and closing night’s Kelly’s Landing Overnight Stakes. Steve Asmussen, who will be enshrined later this summer in Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame, saddled 15 winners during the meet.
Corey Lanerie continued a run of championship performances reminiscent of Hall of Fame jockey and all-time Churchill Downs win-leader Pat Day when he earned another leading rider crown in the Spring Meet. The Louisiana native piloted 52 winners to secure his 11th title in the past 12 racing meets at Churchill Downs. Runner-up Julien Leparoux piloted 42 winners and ended the meet on a high note with the victories aboard Classic Empire and Pretty City Dancer in the closing night stakes races for 2-year-olds.
Veteran Robby Albarado enjoyed one of his strongest Churchill Downs meets in years and was one of five riders with more than 30 wins during the spring’s 38 racing days. Albarado rode 38 winners, while Brian Hernandez Jr. (32 wins) and Florent Geroux (30) rounded out the Spring Meet’s top five jockeys.
Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s domination in the competition for leading owner at Churchill Downs continued as horses carrying their familiar red and white silks won 13 races during the spring racing session. With each new leading owner title the Ramseys break their record for all-time titles beneath the Twin Spires, and their Spring Meet 2016 crown extended the Nicholasville, Ky. couple’s record total to 26 leading owner trophies. Overall, they’ve won 451 career races at Churchill Downs.
The partnership of Oxley and trainer Casse was fruitful and resulted in nine wins for the owner, which was good for the runner-up spot in the contest for leading owner. Midwest Thoroughbreds of Richard and Karen Papiese, Maggi Moss and the Conquest Stables LLC of Ernie Semersky and Dory Newell tied for third in the race for leading owner with six wins apiece.
Individual highlights of the meet were topped by a five-win performance by jockey Julien Leparoux on May 15 and five consecutive winners saddled by trainer Mike Tomlinson. The latter’s string included three winners on Thursday, June 23 – Tomlinson’s first three-win day as a trainer.
Lanerie moved past retired Churchill Downs favorite Charles Woods Jr. when he moved into seventh place on the list of all-time victories by a Churchill Downs jockey. Lanerie’s win aboard Becker’s Galaxy on June 24 was the 757th of his career at the home of the Kentucky Derby. He concluded the season with 762 career Churchill Downs wins.
Veteran jockey Jon Court reached a milestone on May 15 when he became the 13th rider to earn 500 career victories at Churchill Downs in a victory aboard C Islandsurprise. Jockey Channing Hill notched his 1,000th career victory when the Nebraska native guided Shut the Gate to victory on Friday, June 24.
Trainers that reached milestones during the meet included Mike Maker, who became only the 18th trainer to win 300 races at Churchill Downs when Uncle Guy won on the Kentucky Oaks undercard, and Al Stall Jr., who became the 34th trainer to win 200 local races when Miss Bortolazzo prevailed on June 25.
Claiming activity was brisk during the Spring Meet as 210 horses were claimed during the meet for a total of $4,327,000. The claiming activity generated $259,620 in sales tax revenue for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.