Churchill Downs night racing

Churchill Downs night racing

Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs Has Positive Spring Meet

Two purse increases and a successful night program highlight the spring meet.

Churchill Downs reported a number of positive statistics for its 38-day spring that ended July 4.
The strength of wagering during its premier weekend—the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) on May 6-7—allowed the Louisville racetrack to implement two purse increases. The first was a 10% increase in overnight purses that took effect June 9. It was followed bay 15% increase in overnight purses for the last three weeks of the meeting, beginning June 16.

All-sources wagering on the Kentucky Derby card was $165.2 million, the third-highest in Derby history and an increase of 1.5% over the prior year’s handle of $162.7 million. All-sources handle on the Derby race itself was $112.0 million, flat with 2010’s $112.7 million.

On-track Kentucky Oaks guests, adorned in pink for the third annual “Pink Out” to support breast cancer awareness, wagered $12.1 million on the full Oaks day race card, which was an increase of 2.1% over 2010’s on-track total handle of $11.9 million. On-track wagering on the Oaks race alone was $3.0 million, which was an increase of 7.4% over the $2.8 million wagered last year.  All-sources wagering on the Kentucky Oaks card set a record of $37.5 million, an increase of 4.2% over the prior year’s 36.0 million.

All-sources handle on the Oaks race itself was $11.4 million, up 8.2% over 2010’s $10.6 million.

Attendance was also strong during the Derby-Oaks weekend. Derby day attendance surpassed the previous standard of 163,628 established at the Centennial Derby in 1974. The Kentucky Oaks attracted a crowd of 110,122, the third-largest in history.

Churchill Downs lost a racing day June 23 when a tornado ripped through the racetrack backstretch, damaging the chapel for the evacuation of horses and people from six and a half barns. Fortunately no injuries were reported and through a remarkable collective effort, the track and the horsemen resumed racing with the June 24 “Downs After Dark” night racing program, nearly 48 hours after the storm hit the track with 105 mile per hour winds.

Track officials also identified the night racing program as an instant tradition at Churchill Downs.

“This spring meet will long be memorable for milestones and memories highlighted by Derby day attendance that surpassed a record that had been untouched for nearly 40 years, but the response by our community, our horsemen and our team in the aftermath of the June 22 tornado was an unexpected example of what makes Churchill Downs so very special,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs. “In terms of business, it was a very strong meet kicked off by the first ‘Opening Night’ celebration for the Spring Meet and Derby Week—a night so successful it became an instant part of Kentucky Derby tradition. ‘Downs After Dark’ night racing continues to be one of our industry’s shining success stories.”

“Downs After Dark” racing on the meet’s final three Friday evening programs showed steady growth in attendance and handle. The statistics for the three Friday programs are below.

Downs After Dark, Spring 2011
Date Attendance On-Track Off-Track All-Sources
July 1* 27,787 $1,286,037 $4,730,277 $6,016,314
June 24 25,523 $1,135,869 $4,196,319 $5,332,188
June 17 23,332 $1,037,812 $3,773,133 $4,810,945
April 30 38,142 $2,020,124 $6,844,054 $8,864,178

* 13 July 1 races included two races from June 23 racing program canceled because of the tornado. All days except April 30 are Fridays. April 30 was a Saturday.

There were 3,265 starters in the meet’s 408 races for an average of 7.99 starters per race, which was an increase from the 2010 average of 7.75 horses in 439 races during a 42-day spring meet.

Jockey Julien Leparoux, 27, rode a torrid hot streak over the meet’s final three weeks to erase a large lead held by Corey Lanerie and earned his eighth Churchill Downs riding title. The race for the leading trainer of the meet went to Steve Asmussen, who held off Ken McPeek and Eddie Kenneally by an 18-17 margin to earn his fifth consecutive Churchill Downs training title and his 10th overall.

Racing returns to Churchill Downs on Oct. 30, a 21-day stand that will be highlighted by the return of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to the track on Nov. 4 and 5