Churchill Downs Spring Meet Highlighted by ‘Record-Setting Ramseys’
The 2013 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack (“CDRT”) that began with memorable victories by Orb in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and Princess of Sylmar in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) concluded its successful run on Sunday, June 30 with highlights that included riveting performances by Horse of the Year Wise Dan and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Fort Larned; continued success for the tracks’ five-year-old “Downs After Dark” racing programs; a record-shattering performance by leading owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and a battle for “leading trainer” that was not settled until the last of the meet’s 395 races had been run.
As the 38-day Spring Meet closed, the track looked ahead to the second of its trio of 2013 racing meets: the new Homecoming Meet, the first racing meet in the month of September in the 139-year history of Churchill Downs. The 12-day Homecoming Meet is set for Sept. 6-29, and the track’s traditional Fall Meet is set for Oct. 27-Nov. 30.
“Despite a few challenges posed by rainy weather, our Spring Meet at Churchill Downs produced many wonderful experiences, performances and memories,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “We thank our fans, horsemen and employees for working together to make this meet special from Opening Night, through Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week and on through our closing weekend. Now we’ll get to work on our new Homecoming Meet and the new experiences and racing opportunities this exciting new meet will provide for our fans and horsemen.”
The Spring Meet, as always, got off to a roaring start with Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week, six days of racing highlighted by the 139th runnings of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
Despite rainy weather, 151,616 fans gathered beneath the historic Twin Spires on Saturday, May 4 to cheer as Phipps Stable’s and Stuart Janney III’s homebred Orb rallied late to win the Kentucky Derby. The victory was the first for the owners, who represent two branches of one of racing’s most respected families; trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey III, a native of Lexington, Ky. and already a member of Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame; and jockey Joel Rosario, a 26-year-old rising superstar who leads North American riders in victories and earnings at the midpoint of the 2013 racing season.
The wet Kentucky Derby Day weather impacted attendance as a two-year string of record-setting attendance came to an end, but wagering remained at near-record levels. Wagering from all-sources on the Kentucky Derby race card totaled $184.6 million, a decrease of 1 percent from 2012’s all-time record, which totaled $187.0 million. All-sources wagering on the Kentucky Derby race was down 2 percent from $133.1 million to $130.5 million. But both figures were the second-highest in Kentucky Derby history.
On-track wagering on the Derby decreased 7 percent from $12.3 million to $11.5 million, a result of the rain. On-track wagering on the Derby program decreased 11 percent from $23.7 million to $21.1 million.
One day earlier a Kentucky Oaks crowd of 113,820, the second-largest in history, cheered King of Prussia Stable’s homebred long shot Princess of Sylmar to an upset victory over a field of 3-year-old fillies that many felt to be the strongest in the 139-year history of the race. Princess of Sylmar was one of four Oaks fillies saddled for the race by trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the Oaks for a third time. The victory by the Pennsylvania-bred filly was the first in the race for both King of Prussia Stable owner Ed Stanco and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
The 139th Kentucky Oaks established records for wagering from all sources. Betting from all sources on the entire 12-race Kentucky Oaks card rose to $45.8 million and was an increase of 14.7 percent from the 2012 total of $39.9 million. All Sources wagering on the Oaks race rose 21.4 percent to $14.4 million. On-track wagering on the Oaks card increased 4.7 percent to a near-record $12.2 million, and was just $34,000 short of the established record in 2007. Record on-track wagering on the Oaks race increased 19.2 percent to $3.1 million.
Other meet highlights included a pair of victories by Mort Fink’s reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day and returned to win the Firecracker Handicap (GII) for trainer Charlie LoPresti on the meet’s closing weekend. Janis Whitham’s Fort Larned, winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic, returned to form with a dazzling romp in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), where the Ian Wilkes-trainee led from the start under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. in a 6 ¼-length triumph and just missed the track record for 1 1/8 miles with his final clocking of 1:47.45 on a fast track.
The average field for a race during CDRT’s Spring Meet was 7.78 horses, up from the 2012 average of 7.74.
Total race purses paid during the meet was $20,327,798, which compared to $20,890,859 in purses paid during the 2012 Spring Meet. Daily purses over the 38 days of racing averaged $534,942, which compares to a daily purse average of $549,759 a year earlier.
Business in claiming races was brisk throughout the meet with 271 horses changing hands in those races for a total of $4,779,500. The claiming activity generated sales tax revenue of $286,770 for the state of Kentucky.
Human heroes of the 2013 Spring Meet included leading owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey; riding stars that included leading rider Shaun Bridgmohan, Rosario, Rosie Napravnik and apprentice Dylan Davis; and trainers Steve Asmussen and Mike Maker, whose duel for the honor of leading trainer was not settled until the meet’s final race and ended in a tie.
The Ramseys, who own Ramsey Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., saw their red-and-white silks visit the Churchill Downs winner’s circle 32 times, which established a single-season record. Their win total for 38 days of racing was remarkable in that it surpassed a record established by auto racing legend A.J. Foyt Jr. in 1984 during a Spring/Summer Meet that lasted 93 days. The “leading owner” title for the Ramseys was their record-extending 19th at Churchill Downs. Four of the Ramseys’ wins came in stakes races as they earned their ninth Spring Meet title and their first since 2009.
Bert, Elaine and Richard Klein finished second in the owner standings with eight wins.
Bridgmohan led all jockeys in wins with 53 and collected his first Spring Meet title and second overall. He finished in a tie with Calvin Borel for the riding crown at the 2006 Fall Meet. A 34-year-old native of Spanish Town, Jamaica, Bridgmohan is ranked 11th in all-time wins beneath the Twin Spires with 489.
Napravnik, who won the 2012 Kentucky Oaks aboard Believe You Can to become the first female rider to win that historic race, was runner-up in the race for leading rider. Her second-place finish was the highest for a female rider at Churchill Downs and her 45 set a record for victories by a female rider at a single Churchill Downs meet.
Dylan Davis, the 19-year-old son of semi-retired jockey Robbie Davis, won 16 races and was the meet’s leading apprentice rider. His won aboard 26 percent of his 62 mounts.
Along with his heroics in the Kentucky Derby, Rosario enjoyed spectacular success at the track as he finished sixth in the meet’s jockey standings despite competing on only six of the meet’s 38 days. Rosario rode at the track only during Kentucky Derby Week and on Stephen Foster Night on June 15, but won 17 races from 46 mounts for a victory rate of 37 percent.
Six of Bridgmohan’s victories came in stakes races, while Rosario won five stakes events and Napravnik took four.
The race for leading trainer came down to the final race of the Spring Meet when the Ramsey-owned odds-on favorite Buzzin At Midnight won for Maker to give him 35 wins and a share of the title with Steve Asmussen.
It was the record 12th training title at the home of the Kentucky Derby for Asmussen, who is ranked fourth in all-time wins at Churchill Downs with 480, and his sixth at a Spring Meet. He previously was tied with D. Wayne Lukas with 11 titles each.
It was the first Spring Meet title for Maker, who led all trainers at the 2008 Fall Meet and tied with Asmussen at the Fall Meet in 2011. Maker won three stakes races and tied with Pletcher to lead all trainers in that category.
The wins-per-day rate of 0.92 for Maker and Asmussen over the 38-day session was the fourth highest at a Spring Meet in Churchill Downs history and the highest since William Huntley Baker won 15 races over the course of a 13-day Spring Meet (1.15 wins per day) in 1916.
Despite weather challenges, “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” night racing at Churchill Downs remained a very popular Spring Meet attraction as four racing programs under the lights attracted a total of 84,334 fans. Attendance during the five-year history of “Downs After Dark” surpassed 500,000 level during the next-to-last night racing celebration on Saturday, June 22.
Rain and a chilly winds dampened festivities during “Opening Night” festivities on Saturday, April 27, but 21,038 turned out for the Kentucky Derby Week opener and the victory by Forty Tales in the Derby Trial (GIII). The Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap was accompanied by four stakes races on the June 15 “Downs After Dark” program that attracted attendance of 23,509. A crowd of 20,034 enjoyed the nighttime program on June 22, but strong storms that pushed through early in the program and rain that lingered through the evening on June 29 limited attendance at the meet’s final “Downs After Dark” program to 19,753.
Celebrations held during Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week led to the awarding of more than $100,000 in charitable contributions on the final day of the Spring Meet as representatives of the breast cancer outreach organization Horses & Hope and Louisville’s Dare to Care food bank accepted checks for the majority of that total.
A check for $30,000 was presented to Horses & Hope, an initiative led by Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear and a women’s health care partner with Churchill Downs in the celebration of Kentucky Oaks Day for the past five years. The total represents $1 from each on-track sale on Kentucky Oaks Day of the “Oaks Lily,” the signature drink of the Oaks. With the 2013 donation, Churchill Downs has donated $150,000 to Horses & Hope during its five-year Kentucky Oaks partnership.
Dare to Care was the recipient of a the majority of an overall donation of $72,460 from the fourth annual “Taste of Derby Presented by Stella Artois” celebration in the North Wing Lobby of Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center on Thursday, May 2. The celebration of racing cuisine, celebrity and style attracted a record 1,500 patrons. CEO Brian Riendeau accepted a check for $41,260, Dare to Care’s share of the overall “Taste of Derby” donation. The remaining $31,200 in charitable funds generated by “Taste of Derby” was divided among the event’s nearly 20 participating chefs, who will donate those funds to hunger relief programs in their respective cities.