Churchill announces Spring stakes, Firecracker renamed Wise Dan
The 142nd renewals the $2 million Kentucky Derby (G1) and $1 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) on the first weekend in May headline a roster of 26 stakes events -- 23 of which are graded races -- scheduled for Churchill Downs' Spring Meet.
The 2016 Spring Meet stakes schedule includes seven racing days that will feature two or more stakes events and the meet's total purses reflect an increase of $200,000 or 2.5 percent from the $8.05 million offered during the 2015 Spring Meet.
The 38-day Spring Meet begins with the historic track's "Opening Night" under the "Downs After Dark" lights on April 30, and the featured event of the night that launches Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Week will be the second running of the $100,000 William Walker. The six-furlong stakes race for three-year-olds honors Walker, one of the pioneer African-American jockeys who dominated the Churchill Downs jockey colony in its early years. Spring Meet racing will conclude with "Closing Night" on July 2, the last of the meet's three "Downs After Dark" night racing programs.
Important changes in the 2016 Spring Meet stakes schedule include a new name, distance and placement for the $200,000 Wise Dan (G2), a 1 1/16-mile event on turf formerly known as the Firecracker. The Wise Dan is now part of the popular "Downs After Dark" program on June 18 headed by the $500,000 Stephen Foster H. (G1). The Wise Dan had previously been run during the closing weekend of the Spring Meet.
The Wise Dan is named in honor of Mort Fink's two-time Horse of the Year who completed a spectacular racing career with a perfect four-race season in 2014. The Charlie LoPresti-trained gelding by Wiseman's Ferry compiled a remarkable lifetime record of 23-2-0 in 31 races with earnings of $7,552,920. He earned seven of those victories from his 11 starts at Churchill Downs, which included a pair of triumphs in the Firecracker that included his successful debut on the grass in its 2011 running and a hedge-skimming victory over yielding turf in a driving rain storm in 2013. Wise Dan's Churchill Downs success also included victories in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) in 2013 and 2014, and memorable runs on the main track that included a victory in the 2011 Clark H. (G1) and a runner-up finish in the 2012 Stephen Foster. Wise Dan also earned a pair of Eclipse Awards as both champion turf male and champion older male.
"It means so much to us to have that race named to honor Wise Dan," LoPresti said. "He's been a great horse, and we've had so much fun with him and we're proud of him. I've often thought that someday somebody would name a race after him, and I'm glad that Churchill was the first to come up with it because he's won so many races there and is such a big part of Churchill Downs."
The Kentucky Derby Day stakes program is the most lucrative single-day Churchill Downs racing program in track history. The other Grade 1 events on the 2016 Derby Day stakes roster are the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the $300,000 Humana Distaff, a seven-furlong race for older fillies and mares.
Other Derby Day stakes include the $500,000 Churchill Downs (G2), a seven-furlong main track race for four-year-olds and up; the $300,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) for fillies and mares at one mile on turf; the $300,000 American Turf (G2) for three-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on turf; and the $250,000 Pat Day Mile (G3) for three-year-olds at a mile known until last year as the Derby Trial.
Joining the main event on the Kentucky Oaks Day roster of six stakes races are the $300,000 La Troienne (G1), a 1 1/16-mile race for older fillies and mares; the $400,000 Alysheba (G2) for four-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles; the $200,000 Eight Belles, a seven-furlong race for three-year-old fillies that has been elevated to Grade 2 status for its 2016 running; the $150,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3) for three-year-olds and up at five furlongs on turf; and the $150,000 Edgewood, a 1 1/16-mile race for three-year-old fillies on turf that will be run as a Grade 3 event for the first time.
Restored to the Kentucky Derby Week stakes schedule for the first time since 2010 is the $100,000 Kentucky Juvenile, a five-furlong test for two-year-olds that will be the racing highlight of Churchill Downs' celebration of "Thurby" on Thursday, May 5.
With the addition of the Wise Dan, the "Downs After Dark" program on June 18 will offer five graded stakes races with total purses of $1.1 million. In addition to the Stephen Foster and Wise Dan, the roster also includes the $200,000 Fleur de Lis H. (G2), a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares; the $100,000 Matt Winn (G3) for three-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles; and the $100,000 Regret (G3) for three-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
Along with the Spring Meet's 26 stakes races, Churchill Downs will offer six $65,000-added overnight stakes, four of which will be part of seven multi-stakes programs offering during the meet. The remaining spring programs that will feature multiple stakes races include:
Stand-alone features during the Spring Meet include: