Live Racing Returns To Churchill Thursday; New Turf Course Won't Be Ready Until Spring 2022 - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Live Racing Returns To Churchill Thursday; New Turf Course Won’t Be Ready Until Spring 2022

Churchill Downs

Horse racing on the booming Kentucky circuit shifts to Churchill Downs on Thursday, Sept. 16 with the first of three Twilight Thursday programs at 5 p.m. (all times Eastern) as the famed Louisville racetrack opens its ninth September Meet for an action-packed 12-date run through Sunday, Oct. 3.

Thursday's eight-race opener lured 82 entries, including a field of eight fillies and mares for the featured seventh race, a $134,000 second-level allowance at 1 1/8 miles. The program also has a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds and up at 6 ½ furlongs (Race 6) and a $120,000 maiden special weight for 2-year-olds at six furlongs (Race 5).

Each of the September Meet's 117 scheduled races will be contested on the main dirt track. In July, Churchill Downs began work to install a new $10 million turf course that will be ready for turf racing to resume at the start of the 2022 Spring Meet.

Horsemen will compete for more than $12.3 million (all purses include prize money from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund) offered in Vice President of Racing Ben Huffman's September Meet condition book, including an 11-race stakes schedule cumulatively worth $3.26 million.

Five stakes races, including two important fixtures for juveniles that could produce starters in this year's Breeders' Cup and next spring's Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade 1) and the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), will be showcased in primetime under the lights on Saturday as part of Downs After Dark presented by Budweiser.

The $300,000 Iroquois (G3) kicks off the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1), while the $300,000 Pocahontas (G3) starts the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1). Additionally, both 1 1/16-mile 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. 5 at Del Mar with full entry fees and travel expenses paid.

Two Saratoga maiden winners are under consideration for the Iroquois: the Todd Pletcher-trained Major General and Stellar Tap, who gave Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his North American record-breaking 9,446th career win. Ellis Park Juvenile one-two, Roger McQueen and Lucky Boss, and Ellis Park maiden winner Guntown also could run. Hidden Connection, a fast 7 ½-length winner in her debut at Colonial Downs for trainer Bret Calhoun, and trainer Norm Casse's Debutante runner-up Ontheonesandtwos are among the fillies likely to run in the Pocahontas.

Meanwhile Distaff and Filly & Mare Sprint prospects may surface in a pair of Saturday stakes for fillies and mares, the $400,000 Locust Grove (G3) over 1 1/16 miles and the $300,000 Open Mind (Listed) at six furlongs. Last year's Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Shedaresthedevil, winner of this year's La Troienne (G1) and Clement L. Hirsch (G1) for trainer Brad Cox, is likely to headline the Locust Grove against trainer Kenny McPeek's Envoutante, who won last year's Falls City (G2) and this year's Shawnee at Churchill Downs. Winning Colors (G3) winner Sconsin, conditioned by Greg Foley, is expected for the Open Mind.

The inaugural $275,000 Louisville Thoroughbred Society, an open sprint for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs, wraps the stakes-laden program. Streaking stakes winner Bango, trained by Foley, is expected to run in pursuit of his seventh Churchill Downs victory.

Entries for Saturday night's 11-race card will be taken Wednesday morning.

Thoroughbred Racing will meet Louisville Cardinals Basketball when Louisville Live, the University of Louisville's annual preseason basketball event, comes to Churchill Downs for Downs After Dark. To celebrate the theme of “Horses & Hoops,” fans are encouraged to wear Cardinals gear to this one-of-a-kind experience that will bring together two Louisville sports legacies under the famed Twin Spires. Gates will open at 5 p.m. with the first race scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Other marque events during the September Meet include the $275,000 Dogwood (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on Saturday, Sept. 25. The eventual Champion Female Sprinter Covfefe used the race in 2019 as a springboard to a successful run in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita. Also on Sept. 25 are the newly-created $275,000 Bourbon Trail for 3-year-olds at 1 3/16 miles and $275,000 Harrods Creek for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.

Closing weekend is anchored by the $400,000 Lukas Classic (G3) for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles and honors Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the iconic four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks and conditioner of 26 Eclipse Award-winning champions who has been based at Churchill Downs' Barn 44 since 1989.

Knicks Go, the top-ranked horse in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll after convincing wins in this year's Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park and Whitney (G1) at Saratoga, is expected to prep for the Breeders' Cup's $6 million Longines Classic in the Saturday, Oct. 2 Lukas Classic, according to Cox.

Also run that day is the $300,000 Ack Ack (G3) for Dirt Mile prospects. The new $160,000 Seneca Overnight Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles will be run Friday, Oct. 1.

Churchill Downs' 12-day meet will be staged over three weekends through Sunday, Oct. 2 with racing on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Outside of the three Twilight Thursdays (5 p.m.) and Saturday night's lone Downs After Dark (6 p.m.), the first race for all other race days will be 12:45 p.m. (admission gates open at 11:30 a.m.). Eight races are scheduled on Thursdays with 10-race programs on Fridays and Sundays. Eleven races will be showcased each Saturday.

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