Headed by the 138th renewal of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), Churchill Downs' schedule of stakes for its April 28-July 1 spring meet will feature total stakes purses of $7.275 million and an emphasis on "big event'"programs.
The schedule includes the first nighttime running of a multi-stakes event headed by the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I).
The value of stakes purses for the 2012 spring meet is down slightly from last year's of total of $7.325 million for 25 races.
There is a $100,000 reduction for the Stephen Foster and a $50,000 decrease for the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II), which is set to return from a one-year hiatus with a $150,000-added purse as one of four stakes races on the Stephen Foster Night program.
Two stakes run in 2011--the $100,000-added Dogwood (gr. III) and the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (gr. III)--are on hiatus for at least a year.
All but one of the 24 spring meet stakes events has achieved graded stakes status, and five are grade I contests, topped by the Kentucky Derby and Oaks.
The grade I roster is rounded out by the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and Humana Distaff, both set for their 26th runnings on the Kentucky Derby Day program, and the Foster, which makes its first appearance beneath Churchill Downs' permanent lights June 16.
The spring schedule of stakes races at Churchill Downs features four multi-stakes race programs.
Total stakes purses for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks programs, each featuring six stakes events, will be the largest in the history.
Six stakes contests on the Derby Day program May 5 offer total purses $3.525 million, up from last year's then-record $3.4 million. Overall stakes purses for Kentucky Oaks Day, May 4, will surpass $2 million for the first time as its half-dozen stakes races are now worth a collective $2.05 million. Oaks Day stakes purses hit the $2 million mark for the first time in 2011, when the value of the Kentucky Oaks doubled to $1 million.
Nine of the 12 spring meet stakes races outside of the Kentucky Derby and Oaks programs are scheduled to be run in prime time on a Saturday night.
"Our 2012 Spring Meet Stakes schedule at Churchill Downs is exciting in terms of the high quality events and wonderful possibilities offered to the fans who enjoy those races and the owners, trainers, and jockeys who compete in them," said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs, in a release.
"But our stakes purses are basically flat to last year's total, and we've had to do some adjusting within our available purse funds to make the overall schedule of our top races as attractive as possible to both horsemen and racing fans. The schedule continues to offer strong events in every division of horses, but the lack of growth in those purses continues to reflect the challenges Churchill Downs and Kentucky's horse industry face in the continued growth of direct gaming competition from neighboring and other racing markets that benefit from gaming revenues."
The 2012 Spring Meet will kick off April 28 under the lights. The evening's racing highlight is the 88th running of The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial (gr. III), the final major prep for the Kentucky Derby.
Last year's opening night attracted 38,142 fans, which was the largest crowd in the short history of night racing beneath the Twin Spires and a record for a non-Derby/Oaks/Breeders' Cup program.
All four night racing programs during the spring meet are scheduled on Saturdays and will, for the first time, feature graded stakes along their array of "Downs After Dark" dining and entertainment options.
A quartet of stakes with total purses of $750,000 is set for the Stephen Foster night racing program. Along with its main event and the return of the Fleur de Lis, Stephen Foster Night will offer a pair of grade III contests in the Matt Winn and the Regret.
A trio of $100,000 stakes races is set for night racing June 2. The "Downs After Dark" finale June 30 will feature the historic 111th running of the Bashford Manor (gr. III).
Other changes in the purse or status of races on the 2012 Spring Meet stakes schedule include:
* Purse hikes for two Kentucky Derby Day stakes races: a $100,000 boost to the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) making it worth $400,000-added, and a $25,000 increase for Twin Spires Turf Sprint Presented by GE - Appliances & Lighting (gr. III), which now has a purse of $125,000;
* The $300,000-added Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables on Kentucky Oaks Day has been elevated to grade II status, and the purse for the ungraded Edgewood Presented by Kentucky National Insurance on the same day has jumped to $150,000-added, an increase of $50,000;
* The purse for the Firecracker Handicap (gr. II), the featured event on the meet's closing day program July 1, has been reduced by $25,000 to $150,000-added;
* Purses for the $100,000-added Regret and $100,000-added Matt Winn on Stephen Foster Night were reduced by $25,000 each.