Renovated Churchill Posts Gains at Fall Meet

(from Churchill Downs report)
The 21-day fall meet at Churchill Downs, the first at the historic track since the completion of its $121 million renovation and the first since 2002 that was not limited by construction, concluded on Nov. 26 with gains in both on-track and total wagering and on-track attendance.

Average daily wagering from all sources topped $8 million for the first time in Fall Meet history. The track's daily racing benefited from the 10-day growth of a Pick Six pool that reached a Churchill Downs record of $5.7 million before it was distributed on Nov. 19.

Total wagering on the Churchill Downs meet, which includes both on-track and off-track betting, rose to $182,214,993, an increase of 11.3% over the $163,776,217 wagered during the 21-day fall meet in 2004. Total handle averaged a record $8,676,904, bettering the daily average in 2004 of $7,798,867, as well as the previous record – $7,995,667 established in 2003.

On-track wagering and attendance showed gains from the 2004 session in which only portions of three floors in the renovated six-floor clubhouse were available and operations were split between the track and its Trackside simulcast wagering center. On-track wagering totaled $24,483,358 during the meet, an increase of 6% over last fall's total of $23,105,268.

Attendance, which was buoyed by generally favorable weather and the track's high-quality daily racing program, totaled 164,214, an increase of 4.7% from last year's total of 156,805. Daily attendance at the meet averaged 7,820, also a gain of 4.7% from the 2004 average of 7,467, and was the highest average attendance for the fall meet since 2001.

One factor that helped fuel interest in Churchill Downs racing was large fields. Races conducted during the fall meet averaged 10.17 wagering interests, which was an increase from the average of 9.82 in 2004 and the 2003 average of 9.66.

Purses during the fall averaged $478,632 per day, a decrease of 3.5% from the $495,788 offered daily during the 2004 meet.

"Our fall meet was a success on many levels, and we sincerely thank our fans, both on-track and those around the country, our horsemen, and our dedicated Churchill Downs team for their efforts to make this a most memorable meet," said Steve Sexton, track president.

Meet highlights included salutes to retired riding legend Pat Day, who announced his retirement prior to the meet, and legends of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), which included jockeys, trainers, and owners who have won the famed "Run for the Roses." A popular racing innovation was "Stars of Tomorrow Day" on Nov. 5, which featured a program made up entirely of races for 2-year-old Thoroughbreds.

Leading jockey honors featured a race between Rafael Bejarano and Mark Guidry, who ended the meet tied with 26 wins, concluded in a seesaw battle on the final day.

Bejarano, a 23-year-old native of Peru, earned his first fall meet title, while the tie provided Guidry with his first riding crown at Churchill Downs. Guidry, 46, earned his 26 victories from 105 starts, while Bejarano had 164 mounts during the meet.

The leading apprentice jockey was 16-year-old Randall Toups, a Louisiana native who notched seven victories in his first meet at the track.

Louisville native Dale Romans collected his second fall leading trainer title and completed a sweep of the 2005 spring and fall crowns. Romans, who has now won seven training titles at his hometown track, saddled 16 winners during the meet. Runner-up Steve Asmussen, who had swept trainer honors in spring and fall Meets of 2004 and leads the nation's trainers in victories in 2005, finished with 11 wins.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey won top owner honors with seven horses wearing their familiar red-and-white silks entering the winner's circle. The Ramseys had won a record nine consecutive titles until Overbrook Farm snapped that string in the fall of 2004. The Nicholasville, Ky. couple finished behind Billy Hays in the spring meet standings. Overbrook Farm finished second with five victories.