Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Churchill unveils $7.6-million stakes schedule


The 135th renewals of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and the Kentucky Oaks (G1) highlight a 29-race stakes schedule worth a combined $7.575-million that will be contested during Churchill Downs’s 52-day spring meeting, which opens on April 25.

Live racing at the Louisville track continues through July 5.

The $2-million Kentucky Derby, a 1 1/4-mile race for three-year-olds that serves as the first leg of the Triple Crown, will be contested on May 2, one day after the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks. Three-year-old fillies will contest the Kentucky Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race.

Twenty-seven of the stakes races that will be run during the meet are graded. Six graded stakes races will be contested on Kentucky Derby day, including the $300,000 Humana Distaff Handicap (G1), a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares, and the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (G1), a 1 1/8-mile race.

The fifth Grade 1 race that will be run during the meet is the $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1), a 1 1/8-mile race for three-year-olds and older on June 13. Five graded stakes worth a combined $1.55-million will be contested on the Stephen Foster Super Saturday program.

Six Grade 2 races and 16 Grade 3 races also will be contested. The $100,000 Derby Trial Stakes, a 7 1/2-furlong race that will be run on the meeting’s opening day on April 25, has been elevated to Grade 3 status by the North American Graded Stakes Committee.

The Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile Stakes for fillies and mares, which will be contested on the Kentucky Derby undercard, has been elevated to Grade 2 status.

“Our spring meet stakes schedule offers something for horses in all age and gender divisions, and we continue our focus on high quality, big event days with multiple stakes surrounding the Kentucky Oaks, Kentucky Derby, and Stephen Foster Handicap,” said Ben Huffman, Churchill’s racing secretary. “Declines in wagering caused by economic conditions and unexpected limits on distribution of our simulcast signal in 2008 provided challenges as we put this schedule together. But we are satisfied with the finished product and look forward to working with our horsemen to continue to present compelling, high-quality stakes events to fans of Churchill Downs racing throughout North America.”

The Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Group, which acts as an agent for horsemen negotiating simulcast contracts, last year withheld its approval for Churchill to send its signal to account wagering companies because of a takeout dispute.

Two non-graded stakes races run in 2008 will not be contested this year. They are the Opening Verse Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for three-year-olds and older, and the Mamzelle Stakes, a five-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares.