Inclement Weather, Construction Impact Churchill Meet
by The Associated Press
Date Posted: 7/6/2004 7:25:38 AM

Inclement weather and ongoing construction at Churchill Downs contributed to declines in attendance and overall wagering during the 53-day spring meet, which ended Monday.

The track is in the midst of a $121-million renovation, which includes a massive reconstruction of the clubhouse. The renovation will be completed next April, in time for next year's Kentucky Derby.

Total attendance for the 53-day meet was 633,616, down 11.5% from the 2003 attendance total of 716,212. Daily attendance was 11,955, down 13.2% from the 13,773 average in 2003.

On-track wagering totaled $87,110,579, down 7% from last year's total of $93,682,160. Daily wagering averaged $1,643,596, down 8.8% from the 2003 daily average of $1,801,580.

Total wagering on the spring meet, which topped the $600 million mark for the first time in 2003, dropped by 8.1% this year, to $596,332,284. Despite the decline, the 2004 total was still the second largest figure for a spring meet in track history.

(The track does not count attendance and wagering totals from Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Kentucky Derby (gr. I) days in its spring meet figures. The on-track wagering and attendance totals include results from Trackside Louisville, which remained open through the spring because of the ongoing construction at Churchill Downs.)

Wagering on the Derby soared by 13% to nearly $88 million, and betting on the 12-race Derby Day card rose by 2% to nearly $143 million, both North American records. Despite stormy weather on the morning of the race, the Derby attracted 140,054 patrons, 10th largest crowd in Derby history. The Kentucky Oaks, run on another rainy day, attracted 98,445 -- the sixth largest attendance in its history.

"Our 'Spring Meet of Champions' had many high points, and we thank our patrons, our horsemen and our staff for their remarkable efforts in the face of adversity throughout the meet," said Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs. "The results of the meet reflect a mixture of short and long-term challenges facing our track. The short-term issues that affected the meet most were patron concerns over the impact of our renovation on their race-day experience and our unusually wet spring, which had a direct impact on the quality of the racing product that we offered to our on-track and simulcast patrons. But the declines reported in this meet also reflect the continuing impact of new competition in our market and our industry. Casino competition has been present in our home market since late 1998, and those competitors continue to grow and mature. There's also new competition for both Churchill Downs and our Trackside Louisville OTB from a new off-track betting center located just across the Ohio River in Southern Indiana. And we continue to feel increasing pressure in the competition for horses from tracks located in states where revenues from slot machines have allowed purses to grow and attract horses from Churchill Downs and the entire Kentucky racing circuit."

Purses paid during the spring meet totaled $24,463,392, an increase of 7.4% from $22,787,900 offered the previous spring. Daily purses averaged $461,573, an increase of 5.3% from the 2003 average of $438,229. While purses rose, the average number of starters per race fell to 8.50, compared with the 2003 spring meet averaged 8.89 starters per race.

Rafael Bejarano won the spring riding title, earning 81 wins. Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, Churchill's winningest rider, finished second, with 54.

Steve Asmussen won the training title, with 35 victories, and Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey won their record ninth straight owners' title, leading the meet with 19 wins.

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