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Churchill Trims Spring Stakes Schedule

Two of the track's stakes are on hiatus this year, and purses are down $775,000.

Churchill Downs has unveiled a stakes schedule for its 2009 spring meet that is headed by the 135th renewals of the $2-million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). There will be 29 events with total purses of $7.575 million.

Churchill’s stakes purses are down $775,000 from last year’s spring meet total of $8.35 million, which included a late $250,000 supplement to the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) that drove the race to $1 million.

Factoring into the decline in purse totals is the fact two non-graded stakes run last spring are on hiatus this year. Those races are the Opening Verse Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up, and the Mamzelle, a five-furlong turf event for fillies and mares ages 3 and up.

John Asher, vice president of communications at Churchill, said Feb. 3 the track’s sponsorships for 2009 are still being discussed. “We're still finalizing sponsorships for the spring meet,” he said. “We'll announce any additions or other changes to that list when that list is finalized.”

Three more grade I events are included on the schedule for the 52-day session that will run from April 25-July 5. The $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and $300,000 Humana Distaff, both scheduled on the Kentucky Derby program May 2, and the $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap, which is set to head the “Stephen Foster Super Saturday” racing program June 13, round out the five grade I events on the schedule.

The 2009 spring stakes schedule includes 27 graded races. Along with its five grade I races, the schedule features six grade II events and 16 grade III races.

Two races on the schedule were granted higher graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee. The $100,000 Derby Trial was restored to grade III status for its 84th running on the meet’s opening day. The Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile will be a grade II event for the first time when the one-mile turf race for fillies and mares ages 3 and up is renewed on Kentucky Derby day.

Three races have new names: the $100,000 Eight Belles (gr. III), a Derby day race formerly known as the La Troienne that now honors the ill-fated 2008 Kentucky Derby runner-up; the $350,000 Louisville Distaff (gr. II), formerly the Louisville Breeders’ Cup, May 1; and the $100,000 Kentucky Juvenile (gr. III), formerly the Kentucky Breeders’ Cup, April 30. One race will be run at a new distance--the $100,000 Matt Winn May 16 moves from six to seven furlongs.

“Our spring meet stakes schedule offers something for horses in all age and gender divisions, and we continue our focus of high quality, big-event days with multiple stakes surrounding the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, and Stephen Foster Handicap,” Churchill racing secretary Ben Huffman said in a statement. “Declines in wagering caused by economic conditions and unexpected limits on distribution of our simulcast signal in 2008 provided challenges as we put this schedule together. But we are satisfied with the finished product and look forward to working with our horsemen to continue to present compelling, high-quality stakes events to fans of Churchill Downs racing throughout North America.”

The 2009 stakes schedule includes two days that feature six stakes races headed by grade I events. The Stephen Foster day program June 15 has five stakes, and the April 30 and May 30 programs each feature a pair of stakes. The Kentucky Derby day program will again be the biggest day of the meet as the main event will be accompanied by five other stakes with total purses of $3.35 million.