During a season hampered by ongoing construction, near-record rainfall and the loss of several top jockeys in a dispute with management, Churchill Downs ended its 21-day fall meeting with increases in attendance and on-track wagering while experiencing a slight decline in total wagering from last year's record total.Since the meet, which ended Nov. 27, consisted of six fewer racing days than last year's 27-day fall session, results of the two meets are compared through daily averages in attendance and wagering. On-track wagering and attendance figures reflect the combined results from Churchill Downs and its Trackside Louisville satellite wagering facility, which remained open throughout the fall meet because of the continuing $121 million renovation at the historic racetrack. Daily on-track attendance during the 21-day session averaged 7,467, an increase of nearly 11% from the 2003 average of 6,755. On-track wagering averaged $1,098,931 per day, a gain of more than 8% over the daily average of $1,015,696 during last year's fall meet. The daily average for total wagering on races at Churchill Downs – which includes on-track and simulcast betting – topped the $7 million mark for just the second time in track history. Average total wagering stood at $7,791,943, a decline of just over 2% from the record 2003 average of $7,995,677. The 2004 fall meet is to be the final time that the Trackside Louisville simulcast facility would remain open throughout a Churchill Downs meet. Trackside remained open during the track's two previous meets because of the ongoing construction at Churchill Downs. Churchill Downs races averaged 9.82 betting interests, an increase of nearly 2% from the 9.66 average in 2003. The increase was achieved despite the loss of several turf races that were transferred to the main track because of rainy weather in November, one of the wettest in the history of the region. A week into the meet, Churchill Downs dealt with the absence of some of its most prominent jockeys. Those riders refused to accept mounts on Nov. 7 for races on Wednesday, Nov. 10 as part of a protest over insurance coverage and were excluded from the track for the rest of the meet when they refused to make a commitment to ride through the remainder of the meet. "The 'Fall Festival Of Racing' at Churchill Downs was a success on many levels and we salute our fans, our horsemen, our jockeys and our staff for their support and hard work," said Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs. "We faced several challenges during this meet – many expected, but some unexpected – and everyone pulled together to ensure that this anticipated racing meet would live up to the high expectations of local fans and patrons at simulcast centers across North America." Average daily race purses for the meet surged to $495,788, an increase of 17% from the 2003 fall average of $424,017. Purses for the meet totaled $10,411,550.
John McKee earned his first riding crown at Churchill Downs. The 23-year-old Ohio native won 27 races, four more than Pat Day, the track's all-time leading jockey, and apprentice jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., who tied for second. Steve Asmussen, who recently became the first trainer to saddle 500 winners in a single year, notched 14 victories to complete a sweep of Churchill Downs' spring and fall training titles. The record-smashing Texan also won the fall meet crown in 2001. Robert Holthus and Ken McPeek sent out 11 winners to tie for second in the standings. Overbrook Farm ended Ken and Sarah Ramsey's record string of consecutive "leading owner" crowns at nine. Overbrook scored five wins on the meet, one more than the Ramseys, who ended in a three-way tie for second with Richard, Elaine and Bert Klein and B. Wayne Hughes.
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