Horse racing on the thriving Kentucky circuit shifts to Churchill Downs on Friday (Sept. 13) with a 10-race program at 12:45 p.m. (all times Eastern) as the famed Louisville racetrack opens its seventh September Meet for an action-packed 11-date run through Sunday, Sept. 29.
What a difference a year makes. Heck, what a difference six years makes.
When the September Meet was inaugurated in 2013, the average purse per race was $36,690. Last year, the number grew to $46,758, which was an 8.6% increase from the prior year.
The average purse offered this year in Vice President of Racing Ben Huffman's 109-race September Meet condition book is a whopping $76,275, thanks to robust business from state-of-the-art historical racing machines that debuted one year ago at nearby Derby City Gaming.
This year's anticipated three-week September Meet, presented by Commonwealth Technology, will feature a record $8.314 million in prize money (all purses include prize money from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund), which averages to a hefty $756,000 per day. Last year, an unprecedented $5.097 million was paid to horsemen for a daily average of $463,000.
Maiden special weight races are worth $95,000 and allowance races range from $97,000 to $105,000.
If the record-breaking Spring Meet at Churchill Downs is any indication, September's lofty overnight purse structure and eight-race, $1.375 million stakes schedule could lure large fields, high-quality participants and bigger payouts for bettors.
A total of 103 horses and 10 also-eligible entries were drawn Tuesday for Friday's opener for an average of 10.3 horses per race. The average field size during last year's September Meet was 8.5 horses.
This year's Spring Meet, which ran April 27-June 29, also attracted a strong average of 8.5 horses per race when prize money grew from $585,000 daily in 2018 to $846,000. With more horses and stiff competition in each race, the average $2 win payoff increased 23.8% to $13.52 and there were double-digit profit gains for bettors in most all other betting pools, including average $2 Exacta payouts, which were up 49% to a whopping $108.22.
Friday's 10-race card features a trio of allowance races and a trio maiden special weights.
The most lucrative race of the day is Race 6 at 3:16 p.m. when eight older horses sprint six furlongs in a $105,000 conditioned allowance (optional $150,000 claiming tag). The Sagamore Farm-owned and Stanley Hough-trained entry of He Hate Me and Recruiting Ready figure to take plenty of action from bettors. He Hate Me finished second, three-quarters of a length back of Bon Raison, in the restricted $100,000 Tale of the Cat at Saratoga on Aug. 9. Meanwhile, this year's Gulfstream Park Sprint (GIII) winner Recruiting Ready hopes to rebound from a disappointing West Coast trip to Del Mar when he finished sixth as the 8-5 favorite in the $300,000 Bing Crosby (GI) on July 27.
Also entered in the competitive heat is back-to-back Ellis Park allowance winner Mr Darcy, stakes winners C Z Rocket (2018 Kelly's Landing), Done Deal (2018 Iowa Sprint Handicap), Colonelsdarktemper (2017 West Virginia Derby) and Kowboy Karma (2017 Strike Your Colors), and Grade I-placed Mr. Crow.
A major focus for many horsemen during the second half of the year is the development of 2-year-olds. There are two “baby” races for maiden fillies on Friday – a 1 1/16-mile turf test (Race 5 at 2:45 p.m.) and a one-mile dirt race (Race 7 at 3:48 p.m.). They are the first of at least 18 maiden, allowance or stakes races for juveniles during the September Meet. Combined with the nearby Churchill Downs Trackside Training Center, a total of 373 two-year-olds recorded local workouts in the last week.
The September Meet's eight-race stakes schedule cumulatively worth $1.375 million kicks off Saturday with a stakes quartet, including two important 1 1/16-mile fixtures for juveniles that could produce starters in next spring's Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) and the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI). The $200,000 Iroquois (GIII) kicks off the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1), while the $200,000 Pocahontas (GII) starts the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1). Also, both races are Breeders' Cup “Win and You're In” Challenge events, which means the winners will receive automatic berths in the starting gate for their respective Breeders' Cup races on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita with full entry fees and travel expenses paid.
Saturday's stakes foursome is completed by a pair of stakes for fillies and mares, the $200,000 Locust Grove (GIII) over 1 1/16 miles and $125,000 Open Mind (Listed) at six furlongs.
Entries for Saturday's 11-race card will be taken Wednesday morning.
Dennis' Moment, Covfefe, Omaha Beach to Use September Meet as Launching Pad to Breeders' Cup
Some of horse racing's brightest stars are set to compete during the September Meet. Rising 2-year-old star Dennis' Moment, crack female sprinter Covfefe and come-backing 3-year-old Omaha Beach appear primed for starts at Churchill Downs in advance of the Nov. 1-2 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita.
Dennis' Moment is a certain favorite for Saturday's $200,000 Iroquois Stakes (GIII) following his eye-popping 19 ¼-length maiden special weight score at Ellis Park on July 27, and is considered by many onlookers as the uber-early favorite to win next year's Kentucky Derby.
“Dennis' Moment is one of the most promising 2-year-olds we've ever had in our barn,” said Dale Romans, Churchill Downs' all-time leading trainer with 729 wins (ahead of Bill Mott's 715 and Steve Asmussen's 704). “We've had some very nice 2-year-olds and Dennis is right there with them. This horse is only a maiden winner but the athleticism he shows us every morning he trains, and obviously his impressive 19 ¼-length maiden win, leads us to believe the future could be anything.
“The Iroquois is a race that kicks off the path to what our ultimate goal is, winning the Kentucky Derby. I think the timing of the Iroquois works nicely because it gives us time after the race to train toward the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.”
Expected to headline the 11-race card on Sept. 21 is recent Test Stakes (GI) heroine Covfefe, who will use the $125,000 Dogwood Stakes (Listed) as a likely final prep prior to competing in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI).
“(The Dogwood) just fits nicely with the calendar and we can just run from our home base at Churchill,” trainer Brad Cox said. “Obviously the Breeders' Cup is our goal with her and this race gives us good spacing to have plenty of training before we go to California.”
According to Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, Southern California-based Arkansas Derby (GI) winner Omaha Beach is targeting the $150,000 Ack Ack presented by GE Appliances (GIII) on Sept. 28 as his comeback race following surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis – the injury that forced him to be scratched as the morning line favorite from this year's Kentucky Derby.
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