Churchill Downs started a Fall race meet last year and they’re making it bigger and better this year. The meet runs from September 5 to September 28 and will include eight stakes races with a combined purse of $925,000. Several of the races will look to attract 2 year olds looking to run in the Kentucky Derby and 3 year olds as a warm up for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Opening night September 5 will include four stakes races as part of a special nighttime card entitled ‘Downs After Dark’. The first stakes races in the ‘Road To The Kentucky Derby’ and the ‘Road To The Kentucky Oaks’ prep race schedule will be held on this card and will be the first opportunity for aspirants to earn qualification points for both races. The opening qualification races are the $200,000-added Grade 2 Pocahontas for 2 year old fillies and the $100,000-added Grade 3 Iroquois for male horses. The other two stakes races on the opening Saturday at Churchill Downs will be the $100,000-added Grade 3 Ack Ack–a one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up and the $100,000-added Locust Grove which will be contested over a distance of 1 1/16 mile for fillies and mares.
The other big day for stakes racing will be September 27 which will feature the second running of the Homecoming Classic, a 1 1/8-mile prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic andand the $100,000-added Grade 3 Jefferson Cup , a one-mile turf race for 3-year-olds. The remaining two stakes races are the The $100,000-added Open Mind, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares on September 13 and the $100,000-added Grade 3 Dogwoodfor 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on September 20.
The Fall racing meet at Churchill and the prep races described above is part of the effort to revamp the qualification system for the Kentucky Derby. In the past, eligibility was determined by lifetime graded stakes earnings. The new format awards points for performance in specified qualification races which in theory–and so far in practice as well–is supposed to produce better fields of more competitive horses. It has also made huge Kentucky Derby betting favorites a thing of the past as every horse in the field deserves to be there.