Churchill wants to test night racing


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 6:39 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 14 at 4:25 PM


Horse racing fans may hear the bugler's "Call to the Post" under the lights for the first time at Churchill Downs.

The historic track best known as the home of the Kentucky Derby is hoping to bring in temporary lights to experiment with three nights of racing in the upcoming spring meet. Churchill is seeking approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which meets next Tuesday.

Track spokesman John Asher said Wednesday that Churchill wants to "test the waters" with nighttime racing on June 19 and June 26 -- both Fridays-and on Thursday, July 2.

First post would be 6 p.m., and the 11 races each night would continue until about 11 p.m., he said.

"We all look for ways to bring people to the race track," Asher said in a phone interview. "With night racing, you've got the possibility of bringing some people to the track that might be working during the day."

Churchill considered installing permanent lights as part of a sweeping renovation of the track. But the lights were cut from the $121 million project, completed in 2005.

Any dabbling in night racing would not be done with an eye toward its most famous race, Asher said.

"Churchill Downs is not contemplating night racing with the Kentucky Derby in mind," he said.

Asher said track officials received positive comments when they met with neighborhood groups in the area and horsemen to discuss the possibility of night racing.

Trainer Paul McGee said if night racing brought in more fans and generated more wagering, then "more power to 'em," even if it meant ending Churchill's long tradition of day racing.

"I would be willing to sacrifice that aspect of it, if it meant a full grandstand on a Friday night," McGee said in an interview Wednesday.

But night racing can cause hardships for the people caring for the thoroughbreds, he said.

They could find themselves in the barns until midnight taking care of horses that ran in the night's final race at Churchill, he said, creating a quick turnaround for training that starts at 6 a.m.

"But if it means getting more people to the races, that may be the price that we have to pay," he said.

Churchill wouldn't be the first Kentucky track to venture into night racing.

A big portion of racing at Turfway Park is at night, and the Friday night races that include $1 beer, hot dogs and wagers have become some of the most popular at the northern Kentucky track.

"We see a lot of folks that come out on Friday nights that aren't the typical horse racing fans," Turfway President and CEO Bob Elliston said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)