After a career of more than 45 years at Churchill Downs, track superintendent Raymond “Butch” Lehr will retire from that post when the track concludes its 2012 Spring Meet July 1.
Lehr, 63, started his lifetime career at Churchill Downs when he was hired as a member of the backside maintenance crew in 1967. He was appointed in 1976 to serve as assistant track superintendent under veteran Thurman Pangburn and succeeded Pangburn as track superintendent in 1982.
Highlights of Lehr’s more than 30 years at Churchill Downs include oversight of the design and construction of Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course, which opened in 1986; the conversion of the former Louisville Downs harness track into Trackside Training Center; installation and updates of drainage systems for the track’s dirt and grass courses; and a leadership role in safety programs and initiatives at the track that in 2009 enabled Churchill Downs to become the first track to receive accreditation from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance.
In addition to his work at Churchill, Lehr also served in the early 1990s as a consultant on the maintenance of the dirt course at Dubai’s Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, which opened in 1986 and hosted the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), UAE Derby (UAE-I) and other prestigious racing events through 2009.
“I came to work here because I needed a job and ended up working my whole life here, and it’s been a good life,” Lehr said in a release. “I’ve had some other opportunities and offers through the years, but any move away from Churchill is downhill, in my opinion.
“I was born and raised here. I have pictures of my dad on a horse here, my uncle (Charlie Voneye) was assistant track superintendent at Churchill and I’ve had a great opportunity to work with my brother, David, through the years on track projects here. It’s been special to see some of the great horses that have come through here and what they’ve accomplished, and it’s a good feeling to know you had something to do with it.”
“The work and leadership of Butch Lehr and his outstanding track crews during his three decades as track superintendent has been vitally important to Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Oaks (both gr. I), and all of Thoroughbred racing,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs. “Of course, his work is not quite done–he still has the 138th Kentucky Derby and Oaks and an important spring meet on the horizon. But we hope people throughout Thoroughbred racing will join us in thanking Butch for his work and dedication, and wish him the best as he leads his team through his final Churchill Downs meet.”
Flanery said the search for Lehr’s successor has begun. He said the search would be “comprehensive,” but gave no timetable for when the track hoped to name a new track superintendent.