- There will be no turf racing on the final weekend of the Churchill Downs spring/summer meet.
- The original plan was limit turf racing to scheduled stakes races for the rest of the meet.
- Churchill Downs installed a $10 million USD Bermuda-hybrid course following the 2021 spring/summer meet.
My guess is that if you had spent $10 million USD to upgrade the landscaping at your house only for it to be unusable you’d not be happy. That’s essentially what is going on at Churchill Downs right now. Churchill Downs installed an upgraded Bermuda-hybrid turf course following the 2021 spring/summer meet at a cost of $10 million USD. It has been somewhere between a ‘fiasco’ and ‘disaster’, with complaints from horsemen about loose footing, soft spots and large divots all over the course. After a three year old colt named Gingrich was fatally injured in a race on June 10, turf racing was suspended.
Earlier today, Churchill Downs officials announced that there would be no further turf racing during the current meet, set to end on Monday, July 4. The original plan was to limit turf racing to the four scheduled stakes events but that was changed after a training session on Tuesday morning. As a result, the Grade 2 Wise Dan has been canceled while the other three stakes events originally scheduled for the turf track (Saturday’s American Derby and Tepin, Sunday’s Anchorage) will move to the main track and be run on dirt.
Yesterday, Churchill Downs racing secretary Ben Huffman indicated that the suspension of racing on the turf track since June 10 had ‘actually allowed the course to begin to thrive’. He said that the extreme heat had also been a favorable condition for the grass:
“We’ve given the grass time enough to heal and to let it grow. We’ve had a number of experts out here giving us their approval. The heat actually has been good for the type of grass that’s been laid down. We’re seeing it grow before our eyes.”
With a six week break until the Arlington Million card on August 13, Huffman expected the course to be in even better shape. He insisted that the a scenario whereby the event would be relocated to a different venue ‘hasn’t even been discussed’. For now, that remains the ‘party line’ though I’d say there’s at least a 50/50 chance that the Arlington Million card gets relocated. The Daily Racing Form quoted Churchill track president Mike Anderson’s explanation of the situation:
Mike Anderson, Churchill racetrack president, said in a prepared release that turf racing was canceled “to allow the root system on the new course to continue to develop,” further adding that the course “continues to mature each day, and its development has benefited from the warm climate and 2 1/2-week rest, but it’s not where we want it to be just yet. Additional time is needed for the course to become more robust and we’ll give it time.”
Ultimately, Churchill Downs is doing the right thing. It’s tough to come down hard on the track when they’re acting in the best interests of the well being of horses and jockeys. Still, the $10 million USD turf track continues to be a complete mess that might not be resolved any time soon.