Racing returns to Churchill Downs on Friday, Sept. 11 with a 10-race program at 12:45 p.m. (all times Eastern) as the famed Louisville racetrack opens its third September Meet for an action-packed 11-date run through Sunday, Sept. 27.
Inaugurated by Churchill Downs in 2013, the three-week September Meet provides Kentucky horsemen with an opportunity to compete for ample prize money mainly on dirt in advance of the popular Keeneland and Churchill Downs fall meets. Some events on this year’s eight-race, $1.025 million stakes schedule could serve as steppingstones to the Oct. 30-31 Breeders’ Cup World Championships in Lexington, including the $175,000 Lukas Classic on Sept. 26 which was recently renamed to honor 80-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Ninety-four horses and seven also-eligible entries were entered Tuesday for Friday’s opener, which includes two allowances and three maiden special weights. Entries were up 22% compared to the 77 on last year’s 10-race opening day program.
Friday’s featured ninth race at 4:49 p.m. (all times Eastern) is a $42,200 second-level allowance/optional claiming event at six furlongs that attracted eight fillies and mares led by Scarlet Stable’s House of Sole, a 4-year-old daughter of Limehouse who finished second at short odds last time out at Indiana Downs after impressively winning a first-level allowance at Churchill Downs in June for trainer Roger Brueggemann.
Two of the three maiden allowance races are for 2-year-olds at one mile. Trainer Mark Casse appears to hold a strong hand in both $38,200 races with Conquest Stables’ Conquest Big E, a first-time starter in Race 5 (2:45 p.m.), and John C. Oxley’s Gametown, a runner-up on grass at Saratoga in Race 8 (4:18 p.m.).
Horsemen can compete for $3,958,300 in prize money offered in Director of Racing Ben Huffman’s 109-race condition book, which averages to $359,845 per day. Last year, $3,864,487 was paid to horsemen over 12 dates and 122 races for a daily average of $322,041.
The September Meet’s eight-race stakes schedule cumulatively worth $1,025,000 kicks off Saturday, Sept. 12 with a stakes quartet, including two important 1 1/16-mile fixtures for juveniles that could produce starters in next spring’s $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI). The $150,000 Iroquois Presented by U.S. Bank (GIII) kicks off the 35-race “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1), while the $200,000 Pocahontas (GII) starts the 31-race “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1). Also, both races are Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge events, which means the winners will receive automatic berths in the starting gate for their respective Breeders’ Cup races on Oct. 31.
Saturday’s stakes foursome is completed by a pair of stakes for fillies and mares, the $100,000 Locust Grove (Listed) over 1 1/16 miles and $100,000 Open Mind at six furlongs.
The $100,000 Dogwood (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs will be the featured event on Saturday, Sept. 19 – the lone Downs After Dark night racing event of the September Meet.
A stakes tripleheader topped by the Lukas Classic – a 1 1/8-mile race designed as a prep for the 1 ¼-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic and November’s Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) – will be showcased on Saturday, Sept. 26. Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned won the inaugural 2013 running when it was known as the Homecoming Classic. The race was won last year by Cigar Street, who would finish seventh to Bayern in the 2014 Classic at Santa Anita.
The Lukas Classic will share the Sept. 26 spotlight with top milers in the $100,000 AckAck Handicap (GIII) and 3-year-olds in the $100,000 Jefferson Cup (GIII) at one mile on the Matt Winn Turf Course – the only stakes race on grass during the meet.
The Lukas Classic and Iroquois received $50,000 purse hikes for 2015.
POCAHONTAS – Possible entrants for Saturday’s 47th running of the $200,000 Pocahontas (Grade II) for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles (with trainer): Adirondack (GII) winner Just Wicked (Steve Asmussen), Astoria runner-up and Schuylerville (GIII) third Decked Out (Keith Desormeaux), 8 ¾-length Barbara Shinpoch winner Princess Kennedy (Gary Hartlage), Vivid Storm (Buff Bradley), Dream Dance (Neil Howard), Put Da Blame On Me (Dale Romans) and Dothraki Queen (Kenny McPeek). Entries will be taken Wednesday.
IROQUOIS – Possible entrants for Saturday’s 34th running of the $150,000 Iroquois Presented by U.S. Bank (Grade III) for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles (with trainer): Tremont winner Cocked and Loaded (Larry Rivelli), Tyro winner Expected Ruler (Liam Benson), Andrienne’s Warrior (Michelle Nihei), Twirling Cinnamon (Brad Cox), Unbridled Outlaw (Dale Romans), Meeteetse Fly (Kenny McPeek), One Mean Man (Bernie Flint), Conquest Windycity (Mark Casse) and Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII) third Missile Bomb (Darrin Miller). Entries will be taken Wednesday.
LOCUST GROVE – Possible entrants for Saturday’s 32nd running of the $100,000 Locust Grove (Listed) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles (with trainer): Bayakoa (GIII) and Iowa Distaff runner-up and 2013 Locust Grove winner Flashy American (Kenny McPeek), Iowa Distaff winner and Apple Blossom (GI) runner-up Diva’s Diamond (Karl Broberg), Groupie Doll (GIII) winner Call Pat (Brad Cox), 2014 Dogwood (GIII) runner-up Henny Jenney (Bill Connelly), 2014 Bayakoa (GII) runner-up Legacy (Steve Hobby), Mari Hulman George and Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap winner Cabana (Donnie Von Hemel), Unbridledexplosion (Ian Wilkes), Pearl Turn (Will VanMeter) and Ambusher (Wilkes). Entries will be taken Wednesday.
OPEN MIND – Possible entrants for Saturday’s seventh running of the $100,000 Open Mind for fillies and mares at six furlongs (with trainer): Winning Colors (GIII) runner-up Heykittykittykitty (Ron Moquett), Spring Fever and Carousel winner and Winning Colors (GIII) third Spring Included (Steve Hobby), 2013 Dogwood (GIII) third Elusive Fate (Rusty Arnold), 2014 Spring Fever runner-up Chrotle (Bernie Flint), 2013 Golden Rod (GII) runner-up Bird Maker (Ian Wilkes), West Virginia Secretary of State runner-up Brown Eyed Mary (Murat Sancal), Brandywine runner-up Anusara (Greg Foley), Spelling Again (Brad Cox) and V C F Proud Mary (Eddie Kennelly). Entries will be taken Wednesday.
SEPTEMBER MEET AT A GLANCE – Churchill Downs Racetrack opens the 2015 September Meet on Friday, Sept. 11 with a 10-race program that begins at 12:45 p.m. ET. This will mark the third consecutive year that the home of the Kentucky Derby has hosted a race meet in the month September. The boutique 11-day meet will be staged over three weekends through Sunday, Sept. 27 with racing on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Travis Stone will describe the racing action with Joe Kristufek serving as a paddock analysis. General admission is $3 ($1 for seniors age 60 and up) and $10 for Downs After Dark on Saturday, Sept. 19. Reserved box seats are $10 ($25 for Downs After Dark); a seat in the Matt Winn Dining Room is $17; indoor dining options are $37 ($70 for Downs After Dark). Children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult (Downs After Dark policy: no one under the age of 18 will be admitted to the track unless they are accompanied by a parent or responsible adult). Free seating is available over a first-come, first-serve basis in Sections 113-117. Parking is free in the Longfield Avenue lot (Gates 10 & 12). Valet parking is $10.
SEPTEMBER MEET POST TIMES
Day 1 of 11 – Friday, Sept. 11: 10 races from 12:45-5:18 p.m.
Day 2 of 11 – Saturday, Sept. 12: 11 races from 12:45-5:48 p.m.
Day 3 of 11 – Sunday, Sept. 13: 10 races from 12:45-5:18 p.m.
Day 4 of 11 – Thursday, Sept. 17: 8 races from 3:30-7:09 p.m.
Day 5 of 11 – Friday, Sept. 18: 10 races from 12:45-5:18 p.m.
Day 6 of 11 – Saturday, Sept. 19: 11 races from 6-11:10 p.m.
Day 7 of 11 – Sunday, Sept. 20: 10 races from 12:45-5:18 p.m.
Day 8 of 11 – Thursday, Sept. 24: 8 races from 5-8:39 p.m.
Day 9 of 11 – Friday, Sept. 25: 10 races from 12:45-5:18 p.m.
Day 10 of 11 – Saturday, Sept. 26: 11 races from 12:45-5:48 p.m.
Day 11 of 11 – Sunday, Sept. 27: 10 races from 12:45-5:18 p.m.
POST TIME CHANGED TO 3:30 P.M. FOR FIRST TWILIGHT THURSDAY ON SEPT. 17 TO AVOID CONFLICT WITH U OF L NATIONALLY-TELEVISED FOOTBALL GAME AGAINST CLEMSON – With the University of Louisville and Clemson scheduled to meet Thursday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. (all times Eastern) in a nationally-televised game on ESPN at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Churchill Downs has moved its post time that day from 5 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. so fans can enjoy the best of both worlds.
The pre-game party will start early in the Plaza with 14-ounce draft beer sold for $1 from 3:30-6:30 p.m.; food trucks including Longshot Lobsta, 502 Café, The Traveling Kitchen, Red Top Gourmet Hot Dogs and Tasty Tuxedo; and live music by Colin Elmore and the Danville Train. Horse racing newcomers also can stop by the track’s Wagering 101 tent for handicapping tips and get questions answered by expert handicappers and select jockeys and trainers.
Twilight Thursdays return to their usual 5 p.m. time slot on Sept. 24 with specials from 5-8 p.m. and music by Rumors.
DOWNS AFTER DARK SCHEDULED FOR SATURDAY, SEPT. 19 – Presented by Stella Artois and Jack Daniel’s, special Downs After Downs nighttime racing will return on Saturday, Sept. 19 for “Summer Sunset” – a celebration of the final days of summer. Guests are encouraged to wear their favorite summer fashions for the 11-race program that begins at 6 p.m. (all times Eastern).
Entertainment on the Plaza stage will be provided by A Lion Named Roar and “Bet Or No Bet Presented by Thorntons” will give four lucky fans a chance to win big prize money. The specialty cocktail drink that evening will be the Jack Daily made with Jack Daniels Honey, lemonade and iced tea.
On the racetrack, 3-year-old fillies will sprint seven furlongs in the 40th running of the Grade III, $100,000 Dogwood – the featured event on the 11-race card.
Admission gates open at 5 p.m. General admission is $10. Reserved seat packages include a $69 ticket in the Courtyard, which will be an exclusive 21 and up area that includes draft beer and wine, small-plate style food and an official program. A VIP Winner’s Circle Suites upgrade that includes personal in-suite food and beverage service is available for groups of 12-18 at $99 per person. The final race of the evening is scheduled for 11:10 p.m.
FAMILY ADVENTURE DAY ON SUNDAY, SEPT. 27 – Presented by Kroger and in partnership with Kosair Children’s Hospital, Family Adventure Day will be held Sunday, Sept. 27 – closing day of the September Meet.
While adults enjoy the final day of racing, the kiddos will relish numerous activities throughout the day including inflatables, a petting zoo and miniature pony rides, a video game truck, stick horse races, face painters, sidewalk chalk, corn hole, a hay maze and more.
There also will be meet and greets with Churchill Downs’ mascot Churchill Charlie, the Kentucky Derby Museum’s resident miniature pony Winston and track bugler Steve Buttleman, plus a horse racing education station and special activities from Kosair geared toward taking care of your child’s mind, body and spirit. The popular Kona Ice Truck will be present, as well.
Tickets for adults and children age 3 and up are $8 in advance online at ChurchillDowns.com or $10 at the gate on Sept. 27. One dollar of every event ticket will benefit Kosair Children’s Hospital. Family Adventure Day tickets include admission and access to the Courtyard (Section 119) for trackside viewing plus a wristband to access for all activities beneath the Grandstand Terrace.
NEW BOOK SIGNING BY FORTUS, WEST ON SUNDAY, SEPT. 13 – Award-winning turf writers Bob Fortus and Gary West, who have covered horse racing for a combined 70 years, will be at Churchill Downs on Sunday, Sept. 13 to sign autographs of their new book “Ride to Win: An Inside Look at the Jockey’s Craft.”
The book will be sold for $20 (cash only) just inside Gate 17 where West and Fortus will sign copies from 11:30 a.m. through the fifth race at 2:45 p.m.
FOOTBALL CUT-INS ON BIG BOARD – Those who don’t want to miss the biggest college football games on Saturdays during the September Meet will receive updates throughout the day. Portions of the premier afternoon games on Sept. 12 and 26 will be shown between races on the massive Big Board and will air uninterrupted on the 16’ x 30’ Plaza video screen. This week’s games will be Houston at Louisville (12 p.m.) and Georgia at Vanderbilt (3:30 p.m.).
O.A.R. IN CONCERT ON WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 9 – In advance of the September Meet, Churchill Downs, in conjunction with Live Nation, will host a concert by O.A.R. on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Known for their intense and vibrant live performances, O.A.R. will perform in the track’s 30,000 square-foot Plaza – an intimate outdoor setting adjacent to the paddock and beneath the Twin Spires. Allen Stone and Brynn Elliot also will perform. Parking and the box office open at 5 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m. The show starts at 7 p.m. and will conclude around 11 p.m. Tickets are $45 and are available at ChurchillDowns.com.
WINNINGEST JOCKEYS AT 2014 SEPTEMBER MEET – Corey Lanerie (13-for-64), Ricardo Santana Jr. (13-for-53), Brian Hernandez Jr. (12-for-53), Shaun Bridgmohan (9-for-46) and Julien Leparoux (8-for-36).
WINNINGEST TRAINERS AT 2014 SEPTEMBER MEET – Steve Asmussen (7-for-25), Wayne Catalano (7-for-27), Eddie Kenneally (6-for-13), Dale Romans (6-for-25), Rusty Arnold (5-for-7) and Chris Richard (5-for-9).
WINNINGEST OWNERS AT 2014 SEPTEMBER MEET – Ken and Sarah Ramsey (7-for-18), Maggi Moss (6-for-12), Gary and Mary West (6-for-20), Jerry Durant (3-for-4) and G. Watts Humphrey Jr. (3-for-7).
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: CHDN) offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 7, 2016. The track will resume its 2015 racing schedule with its September 11-27 September Meet and a Fall Meet scheduled for Nov 1-29. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships eight times. Information is available at www.ChurchillDowns.com.