American Pharoah parades at Churchill Downs.
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American Pharoah parades at Churchill Downs.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Churchill Sees Increase in Fields, Purses

Spring meet also had dramatic race for jockey title.

Churchill Downs' 141st spring meet, which was highlighted by American Pharoah 's victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), came to a close June 27 and saw increases in average field size and average purses, along with a down-to-the-wire contest for the jockey title.

A total of 2,867 horses competed in 368 spring meet races and the average number of horses per race was 7.79, an increase of 6.9% from the 2014 spring meet average of 7.29. The 2014 spring meet, which also was a 38-day racing session, included 372 races that attracted 2,712 horses. The total number of horses that competed during the meet rose 5.7%, although the 2015 meet featured four fewer races.

Churchill had an average purse of $55,982 in 2015, an increase of 0.5% from 2014. Total purses paid during the meet totaled $20,601,382, a decrease of 0.6% from the total of $20,728,293 in the spring of 2014, which featured four more races. Daily purses offered during a 2015 meet averaged $542,142, a slight decrease of 0.5% from average daily purses of $535,481 in 2014.

"While American Pharoah's Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown heroics provided an emotional lift to all Churchill Downs racing fans, our team, and the entire horse industry, the spring meet got off to a strong start with a record Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week schedule and continued with good news and solid business levels throughout the meet's 38 days," said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack. "Field size and purse levels remain major concerns for our daily racing product, but we offer our gratitude to our horsemen and racing fans in our region, those at simulcast outlets across North America, and those who supported our racing through TwinSpires.com and other online wagering platforms. All helped Churchill Downs racing take small steps forward on a challenging, competitive landscape during the just-completed meet and we appreciate that support."

Both the Kentucky Derby and Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) programs attracted record crowds and all-sources wagering. The Derby's attendance reached a new high of 170,513 and the attendance record for the Kentucky Oaks improved to 123,763. All-sources wagering on the six racing days during Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week rose to a record $263.3 million, up 4% from 2014's $253.8 million, and 2% over the record set in 2013.

The battle for leading jockey provided drama through the final seconds of the spring meet, as Corey Lanerie won the meeting's final race aboard Love Your Humor to earn his eighth Churchill Downs riding title in the track's last nine meets. Lanerie edged nine-time Churchill Downs leading jockey Julien Leparoux 40-39 for the 2015 crown. Lanerie, who also won spring meet titles in 2012 and 2014, started Saturday's final day of racing in a 38-38 tie and each had 10 mounts on the 11-race card.

Robby Albarado finished third in the standings with 29 victories, and Shaun Bridgmohan and Brian Hernandez Jr. tied for fourth with 24 wins.

Mike Maker saddled 23 winners during the meet to earn his fifth leading trainer title and his second spring meet crown. Steve Asmussen was the runner-up with 17 victories and was followed by Ian Wilkes (16), Dale Romans (13), and Mark Casse (12).

Ken and Sarah Ramsey earned another leading owner title during the spring meet to extend their record string of meet honors at Churchill Downs to 24. The Nicholasville, Ky. couple had 17 winners during the meeting and cruised to their latest title over Gary and Mary West, the runners-up with seven winners, and Richard and Karen Papiese's Midwest Thoroughbreds and Maggi Moss, who tied for third with six wins apiece.

Business was brisk at the Churchill Downs claims box during the spring meet, as a total of 243 horses were claimed during the 38 racing days, a 34% increase from the 181 claims registered during last year's spring session. Those claims totaled $4,779,500 and generated $286,770 in sales tax revenue for the state of Kentucky.

Churchill Downs racing resumes during its September meet, which features 11 racing days (Thursdays through Sundays) from Sept. 11-27. The track's Nov. 1-29 fall meet will offer 21 racing dates on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule.