Cooler temperatures and the leaves changing colors signify the return of live horse racing to the Louisville area as Churchill Downs, the historic home of the Kentucky Derby, readies to open its 127th Fall Meet on Sunday, Oct. 30.
The popular 21-day stand, which covers a four-week stretch through Sunday, Nov. 27, kicks off in style Sunday with the 12th annual “Stars of Tomorrow I” program, which is entirely devoted to hopeful 2-year-old stars that have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks.
Sunday’s 10-race opening day card is headlined by the fourth running of a pair of one-mile, $80,000-added overnight stakes – the open-company Street Sense and Rags to Riches for fillies, along with the inaugural $300,000 Spendthrift Stallion Stakes, which is a lucrative seven-furlong sprint exclusively for 2-year-old offspring sired by any active or non-active Spendthrift stallion, including all Spendthrift-owned stallions standing regionally in North America.
Those races serve as local steppingstones to the pair of Grade II, $200,000, 1 1/16-mile counterparts on the Saturday, Nov. 26 “Stars of Tomorrow II” program – the open Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod for fillies that are part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks series which award points to the Top 4 finishers (10-4-2-1).
The new Spendthrift Stallion Stakes – made possible through a partnership with Spendthrift Farm – is designed to be run annually to benefit both racehorse owners and breeders. The $300,000 purse has been structured with a unique approach to award $150,000 to the owners of the placed horses, with the other $150,000 allocated to award the breeders of the first-through-fourth-place finishers. Specifically, the winning breeder will earn $60,000, with $40,000 going to the breeder of the runner-up, $30,000 for third, and $20,000 for fourth.
Free 2017 Wall Calendar, Trick or Treat at the Track on Sunday
Sunday’s opener also features a 2017 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar giveaway to the first 5,000 in attendance, courtesy of Humana. Because it’s the day before Halloween, guests are encouraged to bring family and friends as kids 12 and under are admitted free and encouraged to wear Halloween costumes for a day of safe trick-or-treating at 15 booths set up throughout the first floor of the racetrack. Churchill Downs and community partners will hand out more than 50,000 treats provided by Mars, Inc. between 2-6 p.m. Adults may wear costumes but masks on adults are prohibited for safety reasons.
Sunday’s National Weather Service forecast for Louisville calls for ideal conditions: mostly sunny skies with a high near 77.
Stars of Tomorrow Produces
Inaugurated in 2005, Churchill Downs’ Stars of Tomorrow programs have helped launched the careers of numerous graded stakes winners, including 48 future Grade I winners and 31 millionaires led by 2010 Kentucky Derby champ Super Saver; 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra; 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile and Clark Handicap winner Shackleford; 2016 Belmont Stakes winner Creator; 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2013 Stephen Foster Handicap hero Fort Larned; 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can; and champions Lawyer Ron, Tepin and Will Take Charge.
Horses preparing for this year’s Breeders’ Cup that participated in past Stars of Tomorrow races include Carina Mia (Distaff or Filly & Mare Sprint), Dortmund (Dirt Mile), Gun Runner (Classic or Dirt Mile), I’m a Chatterbox (Distaff), Lord Nelson (Sprint), Tepin (Mile) and Tom’s Ready (Dirt Mile).
Big Money, Big Fields
Over the course of the meet, horsemen will have ample opportunities to uncork promising juveniles or seek year-end graded-stakes glory. All told, 14 stakes races cumulatively worth $2.42 million – which includes nine graded stakes events – will be run during the fall stand. Meanwhile, bettors are certain to be challenged by the competitive Fall Meet racing that typically pits the fastest and battle-tested horses against the recently freshened year-end bloomers.
With a compact 21-day schedule and not as many competing race meets at year’s end, the Fall Meet traditionally offers larger fields. Last fall, the average field size was 9.41 horses per race compared to the 8.03 and 8.51 at this year’s Spring and September meets, respectively.
The horses this fall will be vying for more prize money, too, as more than $10.8 million is eligible to be paid. A year ago, the average daily purses distributed were $470,598, and an average of $515,286 is being offered daily in the condition book this year.
The anchor of the lucrative stakes program comes on “Black Friday,” Nov. 25 with the 142nd running of the $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI). The 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds and up annually lures some of the top older horses in North America and is one of seven stakes events cumulatively worth $1.48 million to be contested over Thanksgiving weekend. Also added to this day is the $200,000 Mrs. Revere (GII), a prominent 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies, which previously was run earlier in the meet.
Racing Every Wednesday-Sunday; First Race 1 p.m. Most Days
After Sunday’s opener, live racing will be conducted on a Wednesday-Sunday schedule with dark days on Mondays and Tuesdays. Most race days feature 10 live races, but there will be 11 on Saturday, Nov. 12 and Saturday, Nov. 19, and 12-race cards over the final four days, Nov. 24-27.
Post time will be 1 p.m. (all times Eastern) on most racing days with admission gates open at noon. Churchill Downs will have special post times on Friday, Nov. 4 (2 p.m.) and Saturday, Nov. 5 (2:15 p.m.) so the races coincide but don’t overlap with a simulcast of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships from Santa Anita. Admission gates will open at 12:30 p.m. both days.
There will be an early 11:30 a.m. start (gates 10 a.m.) on Thanksgiving Day – a Louisville tradition at Churchill Downs since 1969 where more than 7,000 turkey dinners are served with all the trimmings, making it the largest number anywhere in the region.
Special Fall Meet Events Include Family Adventure Day
Other special events during the Fall Meet include Family Adventure Day Presented by Kroger on Sunday, Nov. 6; Military Appreciation Day with free admission for active and retired members of the U.S. armed services on Friday, Nov. 11; Senior Days with a discounted Millionaires Row offer for seniors age 60 and up on Thursday, Nov. 3 and Wednesday, Nov. 16; “Who’s the Champ?” Handicapping Contests on Sundays, Nov. 13 and 20; and a 50/50 Charitable Gaming Raffle on Friday, Nov. 25 with half of the raffle proceeds to benefit the Churchill Downs Incorporated Foundation’s charitable initiatives.
Lanerie, Asmussen, Ramsey Defend Fall Titles
Corey Lanerie, who rode 33 winners a year ago, seeks to defend his Fall Meet riding title, but veteran Robby Albarado had the hot hand during the September Meet with 15 winners at the 11-day stand. Steve Asmussen was last fall’s leading trainer with 11 victories, but it was Louisville native Dale Romans, who collected a 14th leading trainer crown at his hometown track during the September Meet. Ken and Sarah Ramsey won the crown for 2015 leading owner with 25 wins, and, not surprisingly, they were the top owners in September with a trio of trips to the winner’s circle to extend their record for most Churchill Downs owner titles to 27.
Betting Menu Features 20-Cent Single 6 Jackpot
The betting menu will be the same as recent meets and includes the 20-cent minimum “Single 6 Jackpot,” which is offered on the last six races each day with a low 15-percent takeout. The Single 6 Jackpot will be paid out only if there is a single winning wager with six winners placed at the required minimum bet value. If there are multiple winning wagers with six winners in the six-race sequence, 90 percent of the net money wagering into the pool will be paid out, and the remaining 10 percent will carry to the Single 6 Jackpot. If there are no tickets will all six winners, 100 percent of the pool will carry to the Single 6 Jackpot. There will be a mandatory payout on closing day.
Kentucky Derby Future Wagers Return on Closing Weekend
The first pools of the 2017 Kentucky Derby Future Wager will be offered Nov. 24-27. The traditional pool with 23 individual wagering interests and an “all others” option will return, and so will the Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager, which debuted last year and requires bettors to wager on the winning sire for next year’s Kentucky Derby winner.
General Admission, Reserved Seating Options
General admission to Churchill Downs is $3 ($10 on Thanksgiving Day; $5 on Nov. 4-5 and Nov. 25-27). Reserved box seats are $10 ($25 for Thanksgiving); indoor dining options are $38 ($47 on Nov. 4-5 and Nov. 25-27; $70 on Thanksgiving Day). Children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Free seating is available over a first-come, first-serve basis in Sections 115-117. Parking is free in the Longfield Avenue lot (Gates 10 & 12). Valet parking is $10.
‘Stakes and Eggs’ Sunday Brunch
Throughout the Fall Meet, Churchill Downs is offering a special “Stakes and Eggs” brunch special in the newly-renovated Stakes Room every Sunday. The $45 package for adults and $22 package for children includes a seat in the Stakes Room on the fourth floor of the Clubhouse and all-you-can-eat access to the brunch menu that includes an omelet station, scrambled eggs, biscuits and country gravy, French toast, hot brown, carved country ham, crispy bacon, sausage patties, hash brown potatoes with peppers and onions, fresh fruit, garden vegetables, breakfast breads and a chef’s dessert display. Gates on Sundays open at noon and the first race is 1 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased online at ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets, in person at the Gate 1 box office or by calling (502) 636-4400.
Travis Stone will describe the racing action with Joe Kristufek serving as a paddock analyst.
For more information, call (502) 636-4400 or visit www.churchilldowns.com.