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'Happy to be back': Racing resumes at Churchill Downs following heat-related cancellations

Trainer Mike Tomlinson said horses and jockeys got used to slightly cooler temperatures late last week, making the quick spike that much harder to get acclimated to.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A slight cool down and stretches of cloud cover were just what the doctor ordered for trainers at Churchill Downs, getting back on track Friday afternoon.

The sweltering heat persisted all week, but it dipped just enough Friday for horses to resume racing. Races at the track had been cancelled for the last two days due to extreme heat.

"The last few mornings have been like a steam bath," thoroughbred trainer Mike Tomlinson said. "Everyone can feel the results of the humidity and the heat, and the horses feel it too."

Heat-related cancellations are a rarity in Churchill Downs history, the last and only other instance coming in 2012.

Tomlinson, who's trained race horses for more than 30 years, said a lot of factors go into these decisions -- including humidity and how low temperatures are right before a heat wave hits. He noted that just a few days before the spike, temps were in the high 70s.

"The horses haven't had an opportunity, as well as the people, to acclimate," he said. "It's been probably unseasonably cool up until the last few days, and then all of a sudden we got hit."

But for Friday's races, horses were good to gallop as usual. One of Tomlinson's fillies, Shaniah, raced just before 2 p.m.

"Happy to be back," Tomlinson said. "The humidity would have been unbearable, but since it has cooled down, it's very pleasant right now. And hopefully, it will stay that way through the weekend."

The weather is likely to be significantly cooler this weekend, sunny with high temperatures in the low 80s. 

But with extreme heat set to return next week -- and forecasted temps circling around the triple digits at times -- the racetrack and trainers will again be closely monitoring conditions day by day and staying ready to adjust if needed.

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