The 140th renewals of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and the 33rd running of the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) highlight a record six grade I events at Churchill Downs this spring.
Those events headline schedule of 24 stakes races cumulatively worth $7.675 million during Churchill's spring meet that runs April 26 through June 29 . Total purses for the 2014 spring meet stakes events reflect an increase of 2.7% from 2013.
Following are the major changes to purses and other race conditions in the 2014 stakes schedule compared to the prior year:
• The La Troienne, formerly a grade II event, was elevated to grade I status by the American Graded Stakes Committee;
• Three races were boosted by $50,000: the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile Presented by Longines (from $250,000 to $300,000), the American Turf Presented by Ram Trucks (from $200,000 to $250,000) and the Firecracker (from $150,000 to $200,000);
• Three races were increased by $25,000: the Eight Belles (from $150,000 to $175,000), the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (from $125,000 to $150,000) and the Fleur De Lis Handicap (from $175,000 to $200,000);
• The Derby Trial was decreased by $25,000 from $175,000 to $150,000;
• The Firecracker is no longer a handicap;
• The Twin Spires Turf Sprint, formerly on Derby Day, has been moved to Oaks Day;
• The American Turf Presented by Ram Trucks, formerly on Oaks Day, has been moved to Derby Day.
The Kentucky Derby card May 3 will be the richest in track history. The Derby program offers six stakes events with record total purses of $3.75 million. Half of those races are grade I events—the Kentucky Derby, Woodford Reserve Turf Classic for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on turf, and the Humana Distaff for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up at seven furlongs.
The rest of the Derby day stakes are grade II contests—the Churchill Downs (gr. II) for 4-year-olds and up at seven furlongs; the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Presented by Longines (gr. IIT) for older fillies and mares on the Matt Winn Turf Course; and the American Turf Presented by Ram Trucks (gr. IIT), for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on grass.
The La Troienne, a 1 1/16-mile race for older fillies and mares , will be contested on the Kentucky Oaks program May 2.
The Kentucky Oaks, America's most lucrative race for 3-year-old fillies, heads a schedule that also features six stakes events that day, five of them graded contests, with total purses of $2.075 million.
Another highlight on the Oaks Day program will be the Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (gr. II). This popular 1 1/16-mile race for 4-year-olds and up has been won over the past three years by stars that include Take Charge Indy (2013), Successful Dan (2012), and First Dude (2011) against fields that have included the likes of future two-time Horse of the Year (2012-2013) Wise Dan, who finished eighth in 2011, and future Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winners Fort Larned (2012) and Mucho Macho Man (2013), who finished second and third, respectively, in the Alysheba's 2012 running.
Completing the Kentucky Oaks Day schedule are the Eight Belles (gr. III), a seven-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies; the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (gr. III), a five-furlong turf event for older horses, and the Edgewood Presented by Forcht Bank, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies on turf.
The Stephen Foster Handicap, the racing centerpiece of a "Downs After Dark" night racing program June 14, heads a schedule of four races that offer total stakes purses of $900,000. Sharing the nighttime spotlight with the Foster are the Fleur De Lis Handicap (gr. II), a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares ages 3 and up; the Matt Winn (gr. III) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles; and the Regret (gr. III) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
One other multi-stakes program is set the for June 28. It will spotlight the Firecracker (gr. II) for 3-year-olds and up at a mile on turf and the 113th running of the Bashford Manor (gr. III), for 2-year-olds at six furlongs. The Firecracker has been won in two of the last three years by 2012-13 Horse of the Year Wise Dan.
The 2014 spring stakes schedule will be launched by the 90th running of the Derby Trial (gr. III), a one-mile race for 3-year-olds that is the racing highlight of an opening night celebration under the lights April 26.
Other events include the Louisville Handicap (gr. III) at 1 1/2 miles on turf for 3-year-olds and up May 24; the Winning Colors (gr. III) for fillies and mares age 3 and up at six furlongs on the Memorial Day card May 26; the Aristides (gr. III) for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs May 31; the Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (gr. III) for fillies and mares age 3 and up at 1 1/16 miles on turf June 7; and the 114th running of the Debutante for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs June 21.