The permanent lights installed at Churchill Downs will have their grandest showcase yet this fall as Breeders' Cup and the Louisville track announced Wednesday portions of this year's world championship cards on Nov. 5-6 will finish under the lights for the first time in the event's history.
Friday's card will begin at 2 p.m. EDT and finish about 7:30 p.m. with the $2 million Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. Saturday's races will begin at 12:05 p.m. and conclude with the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at 6:45 p.m.
Given the late post time of the Classic, the lights might be turned on for that race as well.
Following a successful night racing experiment last summer when the track averaged nearly 30,000 fans during its three-date test run, Churchill Downs made the lights a permanent fixture.
Churchill Downs has already been the site for six of the seven largest one-day attendance records in Breeders' Cup history — including the all-time mark of 80,452 in 1998. Thus, officials hope the twilight cards can lend an additional boost to this year's event.
"We expect it definitely will add another layer of interest and excitement for this year's championship," said Greg Avioli, president and CEO of Breeders' Cup Ltd. "It's never been done before. It's at a facility that did a great job of putting in the lights and had a very successful experiment with it last year.
"We're very thankful to Churchill for making the opportunity available to us. We think it will definitely have a buzz and it also has the added benefit of allowing our fans to make sure they get home from work or get to the OTB and have time to watch and wager on the race by running it a little bit later."
Though never run under the lights, the Breeders' Cup has concluded in darkness before at Churchill Downs. The rain-soaked running of the 1988 Breeders' Cup Classic, when champion Alysheba captured the race en route to earning Horse of the Year honors, was without much light because of thick cloud cover.
Asked if this year's twilight Breeders' Cup card could prompt the track to hold the Kentucky Derby under the lights, John Asher, vice president of racing communications for Churchill, said don't expect that any time soon.
"I didn't hear a great amount of enthusiasm for that idea around Derby time from our CEO to NBC officials on down, so that's something right now that is not at the top of our list of priorities," Asher said. "You never say never but right now there are no plans for that."
Churchill Downs will be hosting the Breeders' Cup for a seventh time this fall.
The Breeders' Cup board has yet to announce a host track for 2011. Given the current financial troubles plaguing the New York Racing Association, which was approved for a $25 million loan from the state, and Santa Anita Park's recent decision not to renew its lease with Oak Tree Racing which held the last two Breeders' Cups, Churchill Downs is likely to be a leading contender to hold the championships again next season.
"With some of the ongoing problems they're having in California right now and NYRA's financial issues, it's definitely something the board is considering," Avioli said of Churchill Downs' chances for 2011.
Added Asher, "We want the Breeders' Cup here whenever they want to be here. We believe it's at its best when it's at Churchill Downs."
Tickets for this year's Breeders' Cup go on sale June 5.