Light Up The Night

by Ed Meyer

posted on April 3, 2009 in News | No Comments >>

Churchill Downs hopes to run three night-time cards during its upcoming spring meet, renting temporary lights to see how the fans and horse players react to what will be the first after-dark racing in the history of the storied track.

Churchill today is sending a request to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, asking for approval at the commission’s meeting Tuesday.

According to Churchill spokesman John Asher, Churchill is seeking a 6 p.m. first post on two Fridays, June 19 and 26, and Thursday, July 2.

If approved, he said Churchill would have 11 races each night, which would conclude about 10:45-11 p.m.

He said more details would be available next week. Churchill’s spring meet runs April 25-July 5.

Asher said permanent lights were initially part of Churchill’s clubhouse renovation plans completed in 2005. However, those plans were among some late cuts made to decrease the cost of the $121 million project.

“It was something we looked at, not for a regular basis, but asking the market to see if there’s a desire for that product out there,” he said. “It’s something we’ve considered for several years, and decided this was a good time to try it.”

“… It’s another option, another opportunity out there. It also would give us an indication whether we should think about down the road bringing in some permanent lights. Basically it’s an experiment to see if the public has an appetite for it and if there is an opportunity for growth.”

Asher said track officials have met with neighborhood groups in the area and horsemen and received positive feedback. Other tracks, such as Hollywood Park, have had success attracting a younger audience when they’ve had night racing on Fridays.

Turfway Park, which has had night racing for decades, draws some of its biggest crowds on Friday night, when it features $1 beer, hot dogs and bets and has live music.

Asked if a Kentucky Derby conducted under lights could be in the offing, Asher said: “I don’t think anybody is thinking about that.”