Churchill Downs Racetrack announced March 31 that track superintendent David Lehr will retire from that post, effective May 31, and will be succeeded by assistant track superintendent James "Jamie" Richardson, who will become just the fifth person in 104 years of Churchill Downs history to hold that job when he assumes his new duties in June.
David Lehr joined Churchill Downs in 1972 and succeeded his older brother, Raymond "Butch" Lehr, as track superintendent upon his brother's retirement in 2012. Butch Lehr had joined Churchill in 1967 and assumed the duties of track superintendent in 1982.
"After a long and distinguished career at Churchill Downs, David Lehr has decided to retire and we wish the very best for him and his family as he enters a new phase of his life," Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery said in a release. "It will seem strange to be without a member of the Lehr family on our team after the combined 88 years of service by David and his brother, Butch.
"We are very pleased that Jamie Richardson has accepted the opportunity to assume the post of track superintendent upon David Lehr's departure at the end of May. Jamie had an impressive record on his arrival at Churchill Downs and worked very well with David during his three years here. We've been impressed by his work and enthusiasm, and his curiosity to learn about new practices and products that could benefit our ongoing efforts to sustain the worldwide reputation of our racing surfaces for safety and fairness."
The track superintendent at Churchill Downs oversees the care, maintenance and preparation of the world-famous one-mile dirt surface over which the Kentucky Derby has been run since its debut at a track then known as the Louisville Jockey Club in 1875. The track superintendent also is responsible for the Matt Winn Turf Course, a seven-furlong grass surface which hosted its first race on April 29, 1987.
Richardson, 46, previously served as track superintendent for the Maryland Jockey Club from 1989-2008 and was track superintendent at Oaklawn Park for two years before he joined Churchill Downs.
"Churchill Downs has been an important part of my life and the lives of members of my family as long as any of us can remember, so my decision to retire after 43 years is somewhat bittersweet," David Lehr said in a Churchill Downs release. "The decision is, however, the right thing for me and my family, and I'm looking forward to the next step in my life.
"We have always tried to do things the right way in taking care of our dirt and turf courses, and we've been on the lookout for new practices and technology to keep those tracks safe and fair. I'm very proud of our accomplishments and the growth of Churchill Downs racing during my career, and I wish Jamie Richardson the best in this very special job."
"It's a wonderful and very special thing to be named to this position at Churchill Downs and it is humbling to realize that only four other individuals have held this post in 104 years," Richardson said. "It's special to continue a long relationship with Triple Crown races that included my years of working with Pimlico and the Preakness and my work here at Churchill Downs during the past two runnings of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I)."