A farewell victory by popular 2011 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Shackleford in the Nov. 23 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (gr. I) provided an exclamation point near the end of Churchill Downs' 21-day fall meet that concluded Nov. 25.
"Our fall meet is always a fast-moving treasure, and our 21 days of racing were packed with wonderful performances on the track by horses and humans, another testament from fans to the allure of 'Downs After Dark' night racing, (and) a high quality daily racing product... " said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs, said in a statement. "It was a satisfying meet on many levels as we continue to navigate a challenging competitive environment."
Purses paid out during the season totaled $8,893,694, an average of $423,513 daily. The purse total in the fall of 2011 was $8,331,752 with a daily average of $438,513. A total of 2,104 horses competed in 219 races for an average field of 9.61 horses-per-race, up from the 2011 fall meet size of 9.38.
Churchill Downs Inc.-owned tracks do not release attendance or wagering figures, except for major race days or for night racing.
The popularity of "Downs After Dark" night racing was underscored Nov. 18 when 15,926 fans attended the lone evening session of the fall meet. Attendance was 1.3% higher than the 15,719 who attended a "Downs After Dark" session on a Friday evening during the 2011 fall meet.
Total mutuel handle for "Downs After Dark" evening was $7,400,293, an increase of 23.5% from the same date in 2011, and the third-largest wagering total in 18 "Downs After Dark" or "Opening Night" racing sessions. Off-track wagering totaled $6,289,007—an increase of 23.6% from the same racing date in 2011—and on-track handle rose to $1,111,385, an increase of 23.1% from a year earlier.
Shackleford's victory in the Clark provided a fitting career conclusion for the 4-year-old son of Forestry
, trained by Dale Romans, who retired with a 6-5-1 record in 20 starts with earnings of $3,090,101 for Mike Lauffer, Bill Cubbedge, and Phillips Racing. Shackleford's triumph also provided Romans with a rare fall meet double one day after winning the Nov. 22 Falls City Handicap (gr. II) with Afleeting Lady
, Alpha Delta Stables and Richard Santulli's 5-year-old half-sister to the Clark winner. Shackleford and Alfeeting Lady were both produced from the Unbridled mare Oatsee
Romans saddled 14 winners during the Oct. 28-Nov. 25 session to tie for the training title with Ken McPeek. It was the 10th training title for Romans at his hometown track and his third fall meet crown, while McPeek earned his second local title. Romans has won 576 races at Churchill and trails only Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the Louisville oval's all-time win leader with 667 victories.
Jockey Corey Lanerie followed his breakthrough spring meet riding title by leading the colony in the fall. The 38-year-old Louisiana native won 29 races and became the 19th jockey to register 400 career wins at Churchill.
The race for leading owner finished in a four-way tie with Brad Kelley's Bluegrass Hall; Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider; Susan McPeek and partners' Magdalena Racing; and Gary and Mary West each collecting four wins.
Churchill will conduct three separate racing meets for the first time in track history in 2013. It will add a third meet in September, with 12 racing days and an option for four additional racing days. The track will conduct a total of 72 racing days in 2013, with a spring meet set for April 27-June 30, the inaugural September meet running Sept. 6-29, and the fall meet, which will run Oct. 27-Nov. 30.