The September meet at Churchill Downs begins Friday with a 10-race program and the opening weekend features the first race in the 2018-19 Road to the Kentucky Derby series, Saturday’s $150,000 Iroquois (G3) which also serves as a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
With 97 horses entered for Friday’s opener, average field size will be 9.7 horses per race. The average field size during last year’s meeting was a September record 8.9 horses.
A total of nine stakes worth $1.125 million will be offered over the 11-day session, which includes three weekends and runs through September 30. It’s the sixth September meet at Churchill Downs and the popular “Downs After Dark” theme will be featured on the September 29 penultimate program.
Record purse levels of $5.275 million in prize money will be offered, averaging $479,545 per day. Last year, $4.692 million was paid to horsemen for a daily average of $427,000, up 12% from the prior year.
The Breeders’ Cup World Championships will return to Churchill Downs during the 21-day fall meet on November 2-3 and several new trainers will have horses stabled at the Louisville track for the first time in many years, including Keith Desormeaux, two-time Kentucky Derby winner Nick Zito and newcomer Chad Summers.
“A big part of the Breeders’ Cup being here at Churchill Downs is that we are going to have a lot of people that are trying to get a run over this track,” Director of Racing Ben Huffman said. “When Breeders’ Cup is here, that always helps your stakes races.
“Nominations haven’t even closed for the Lukas Classic (G3) (on September 29) but I can already tell you (three-time Grade 1 winner and Whitney [G1] runner-up) Mind Your Biscuits’ next start will be in the Lukas Classic. Also, Toast of New York is coming from Europe to get a trip over the track prior to the Breeders’ Cup. Things like that helps our other stakes races.
“Keith Desormeaux is going to send five or six horses. He says he’s going to stay even after the Breeders’ Cup. Chad Summers is coming with one or two horses. He, too, has mentioned running in the Breeders’ Cup and sticking around for the Clark Handicap (G1). We were able to squeeze Nick Zito in for the September and Fall Meet with a small division of 12. He normally doesn’t race with us September or the fall. Things like that are indication that things may be changing with guys like that stabling here this year.”