Unable to thaw its main track following a blast of winter weather, Churchill Downs has announced that it will cancel live racing for a second straight day Nov. 20.
The Louisville track missed a full card of action Nov. 19 due to icy conditions. This is the first time that a frozen racetrack has forced back-to-back full card cancellations at Churchill Downs since Nov. 23-24, 1970.
Despite efforts by the 26-person track maintenance team at Churchill Wednesday, training and the 10-race program scheduled for Thursday has been canceled because the one-mile dirt racetrack remains frozen.
The track maintenance team, led by senior director of track surfaces David Lehr and assistant track superintendent Jamie Richardson, continued their around-the-clock maintenance of the surface Wednesday to no avail. Temperatures climbed into the 40s Wednesday but sunshine was minimal and southwest winds gusted as high as 30 miles per hour, which deterred their efforts to thaw the main track through constant harrowing and grading.
"We had hoped to make significant progress on the track today but the strong winds were no help and by late afternoon the track had refrozen," said track president Kevin Flanery. "A suitable cushion is imperative and we haven't been able to get there because Mother Nature isn't cooperating. The ground temperature is significantly cooler than the air temp, and even with all of our team's effort we can't get the cushion to dry out evenly to provide a suitable racing surface for our athletes. The health and safety of our horses and jockeys remains paramount."
The National Weather Service forecast for Louisville called for overnight temperatures to fall to a low of 23, with a 20% chance of snow showers between 9 p.m. and midnight, which meant there was little chance of significant improvement until well into Thursday. The forecast for Thursday calls for mostly sunny skies with a high near 33 and a west wind of 7 to 11 mph.
Horses have been unable to train on the dirt surface at Churchill Downs since Tuesday thanks to an early winter blast of three inches of snow the prior morning and frigid temperatures for more than a week. Ten-race programs were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at 12:40 p.m. EST.
The average temperature in Louisville this time of the year is typically in the upper 50s.
Churchill Downs intends to stage a 10-race card Friday at 12:40 p.m. EST. Friday's high is forecasted for 38 with mostly sunny skies. The temperature should climb to a more seasonal 52 on Saturday when an 11-race program, highlighted by the $100,000 Cardinal Handicap (gr. III), is scheduled. Closing day of the 26-day fall meet is Sunday, Nov. 30.
Cancellations of Churchill Downs racing programs due to weather conditions are rare. Wednesday's cancellation was the first for the fall meet since a wintry mix caused a frozen track on Nov. 13, 1986. Thursday's cancellation is the 20th documented weather-related cancellation at the racetrack.
While there is no live racing Thursday, simulcast wagering on other tracks around North America will be available at Trackside at Churchill Downs. Admission will be free Thursday and admission gates will open at 11:30 a.m.
Churchill Downs will contact groups and individual patrons who had purchased seating for Thursday's racing program to reschedule their visit.