Is Horse Racing Dead? Churchill Downs to Offer up nearly $9 Million in Purses

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Churchill winner's circleThe 144th renewals of the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) and the $1 million-guaranteed Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) headline a strong roster of 32 stakes races with total purses of $8.84 million scheduled for Churchill Downs Racetrack’s April 28-June 30 Spring Meet.

The schedule is headlined by a spectacular Kentucky Derby Day on Saturday, May 5 that features seven graded stakes races – including three Grade I events – with total stakes purses of $4.2 million. The Kentucky Oaks Day program one day earlier features six graded stakes with total stakes purses of $2.35 million. Another highlight is the “Downs After Dark” nighttime program on Saturday, June 16, featuring five graded stakes, topped by the 37th running of the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), with total stakes purses of $1.1 million.

The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are among six Grade I races on the Spring Meet schedule that also features seven Grade II events, 10 Grade III contests, one listed $100,000 event, two additional $100,000 stakes and six overnight stakes races that offer purses of $65,000-added. The Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and Stephen Foster Handicap programs are among seven racing days that will feature two or more stakes contests. Alongside the Derby, Oaks and Stephen Foster Handicap, Grade I events set for the 2018 meet are the $500,000 Old Forester Turf Classic and $300,000 Humana Distaff on Derby Day and the Oaks Day renewal of the $350,000 La Troienne.

Four events on the Spring Meet schedule will benefit from individual purse increases of $50,000. Those races are the $300,000 Pat Day Mile Presented by LG&E and KU(GIII) on Derby Day and the Oaks Day renewals of the $350,000 La Troienne, the $200,000 Edgewood Presented by Forcht Bank (GIII) and the $200,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint (GIII).

Along with the running of the Kentucky Derby, America’s greatest race and the nation’s oldest continuously-held sports event, a trio of Grade I events on the Derby Day racing program includes the 32nd running of the Old Forester Turf Classic (formerly known as the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic from 2000-17) for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the grass; the 32nd renewal of the Humana Distaff, a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares ages 4 and up. Completing the spectacular roster of seven Derby Day graded stakes events will be the $500,000 Churchill Downs (GII) for 4-year-olds and up at seven furlongs; the $300,000 Longines Distaff Turf Mile (GII) for fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up at one mile on turf; the Pat Day Mile for 3-year-olds at one mile on the main track; and the $300,000 American Turf Presented by Ram Trucks (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course.

The 2017 Kentucky Derby was won by MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, Theresa Viola, St Elias, Siena Farm and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Always Dreaming, while Gunpowder Farms LLC’s Divisidero earned his second consecutive victory in the Turf Classic. Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Paulassilverlining won the Humana Distaff.

The six stakes races on the Friday, May 4 Kentucky Oaks Day program are headed by the Oaks, America’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, and the La Troienne (GI), a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares ages 4 and up. The Oaks Day schedule also features the $400,000 Alysheba (GII) for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles; the $200,000 Eight Belles Presented by Kentucky Trailer (GII) for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs; the Edgewood (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on turf; and the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (GIII) for 3-year-olds and up at five furlongs on turf.

China Horse Club International Ltd. and Clearsky Farm’s Abel Tasman rallied from last in a field of 14 to win the 2017 Kentucky Oaks, while Maggi Moss’ Big World took the La Troienne.

The Stephen Foster Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile event for 3-year-olds and up, is the main even on the June 16 night racing program the features five stakes contests. Joining the Grade I headliner will be the $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) for fillies and mares ages 3 and up at 1 1/8 miles; the $200,000 Wise Dan (GII) for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on turf; the $100,000 Matt Winn (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles; and the $100,000 Regret (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

The Stephen Foster was won last year by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Three Chimneys Farm LLC’s Gun Runner, who would go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year and the Champion Older Male of 2017.

Other multiple stakes programs include the Kentucky Derby Week Thurby program on Thursday, May 3 that includes the $100,000 Kentucky Juvenile for 2-year-olds at five furlongs and the Opening Verse Overnight Stakes for 3-year-olds and one mile on turf; the Saturday, May 26 card topped by the $100,000 Winning Colors (GIII) for fillies and mares 3 and up at six furlongs and the Keertana Overnight Stakes for fillies and mares 3 and up at 1 ½ miles on turf; the Saturday, June 2 “Downs After Dark” program topped by the $100,000 Aristides (GIII) for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs and the Mighty Beau Overnight Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at five furlongs on turf; and the Saturday, June 30 closing day program with a trio of stakes races led by the $100,000 Bashford Manor (GIII) for 2-year-olds at six furlongs, the $100,000 Debutante (Listed) for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs, and the Kelly’s Landing Overnight Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at seven furlongs.

The Spring Meet stales schedule kicks off under the lights during the Opening Night celebration on Saturday, April 28. The night’s racing program will be highlighted by the $100,000 William Walker, a race for 3-year-olds named for the pioneering African-American jockey and Kentucky Derby winner which will be run for the fourth time. The William Walker is the only race on the Spring Meet schedule that will undergo a change in racing surface or distance. The race will now be run on the turf at five furlongs after being run on the main track at six furlongs in its first three renewals.

Other graded stakes contests on the schedule include the $100,000 Louisville Handicap (GIII) for 3-year-olds and up at 1 ½ miles on turf on May 19, and the Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap (GIII), a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares 3 and up on June 9. Two additional overnight stakes races complete the schedule: the May 12 Unbridled Sydney for fillies and mares 3 and up at five furlongs on turf, and the June 23 Roxelana, for fillies and mares 3 and up at six furlongs on the main track.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 14-time qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He recently won a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is also a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program. He is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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