Churchill Prepares To Open 21-Day Meet With Excess Of $41 Million In Purses

by | 10.25.2018 | 3:11pm

Following a seven-year hiatus, the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships will return to Churchill Downs in earnest on Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3 – the highlight of an action-packed Fall Meet at the historic home of the Kentucky Derby that begins Sunday, Oct. 28.

The popular 21-day stand, which covers a four-week stretch through Sunday, Nov. 25, kicks off in style Sunday at 1 p.m. (all times Eastern) with the 14th annual “Stars of Tomorrow I” program, which is entirely devoted to hopeful 2-year-old stars that have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI).

Sunday's 11-race opening day card is headlined by two stakes: the third running of the $300,000 Spendthrift Juvenile Stallion Stakes – a seven-furlong sprint exclusively for 2-year-old offspring sired by any active or non-active Spendthrift stallion, including all Spendthrift-owned stallions standing regionally in North America – and the sixth running of the $100,000-added Rags to Riches Overnight Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at one mile.

The 129th Fall Meet will showcase lofty purse levels thanks to early returns from state-of-the-art historical racing machines at Derby City Gaming, Churchill Downs Incorporated's new $65 million facility that opened in mid-September at nearby 4520 Poplar Level Road.

Horsemen will compete for a massive $41,364,500 in prize money offered in Director of Racing Ben Huffman's 223-race Fall Meet condition book, including more than $29 million for the Nov. 2-3 Breeders' Cup World Championships programs. Excluding the two Breeders' Cup days, the average daily purses offered is $648,658, which is a 29.7% jump compared to the $499,959 that was awarded on average at last year's Fall Meet.

For some perspective, the average purse for an overnight race in 2012 – the year before the debut of Churchill Downs' September Meet – was $32,672. The average purse per overnight race in this year's condition book is $54,921 – a 68.1% jump from six years ago.

Last year, maiden special weights were $60,000; this year they're worth a record $76,000. Allowance races ranged from $62,000 to $72,000 in 2017; now they are $78,500 to $90,000. And $5,000 claimers will benefit as they chase for a $20,500 purse compared to $18,000 a year ago. As a result, the barn area is at capacity, and the average field size of 8.9 horses per race a year ago could be challenged.

After Sunday's opener, live racing will be conducted on a Wednesday-Sunday schedule with dark days on Mondays and Tuesdays. Most race days feature 10 live races, but there will be 11 on opening day; Saturday, Nov. 10 and Saturday, Nov. 17. Twelve-race cards are scheduled for Breeders' Cup Saturday and the final four days, Nov. 22-25. 

Post time will be 1 p.m. (all times Eastern) on most racing days with admission gates open at 11:30 a.m. Churchill Downs will have special post times for the Breeders' Cup: 12:55 p.m. on Breeders' Cup Friday, Nov. 2 (gates open at 10 a.m.) and 10:45 a.m. on Breeders' Cup Saturday, Nov. 3 (gates open at 8 a.m.).

Also, there will be an early 11:30 a.m. start (gates 10 a.m.) on Thanksgiving Day – a Louisville tradition at Churchill Downs since 1969 where more than 7,000 turkey dinners are served with all the trimmings, making it the largest number anywhere in the region.

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