Churchill Downs has ended its association with the Susan G. Komen foundation but not because of recent controversy over plans to deny grants for breast screening to Planned Parenthood, officials say.
For three years, Komen partnered with the track for Kentucky Oaks Day, featuring a "Ladies First" theme and raising $420,000 for breast cancer research. Churchill donated $1 to Komen for each person in attendance on Oaks Day, the Friday before the Kentucky Derby; attendance soared to more than 100,000, with attendees wearing pink, the Downs decorated in pink and bugler Steve Buttleman sporting a pink jacket.
Komen founder Nancy G. Brinker was once "First Lady of the Oaks."
But no more.
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On Wednesday, Churchill announced a new partnership with Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) for Oaks Day.
Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers said the switch had nothing to do with the recent public furor over Komen's January decision (now rescinded) to pull funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics.
"We communicated our desire to end the partnership months ago, well before the recent issue," Rogers said.
The previous partnership had been good for both Komen and Churchill, but many Oaks fans suggested that the track look for a partner with a broader scope of cancers that affect women and their families, Rogers said.
"We were informed in December 2011 that Churchill Downs would not be continuing their partnership with Komen in 2012 in order to find a charity that included all forms of cancer," said Kiki Ryan, Komen spokeswoman. "The funds raised through the Kentucky Oaks partnership helped Susan G. Komen fund life-saving breast cancer research as well as screening and treatment programs for under-served women in local Kentucky communities.
"It also provided a public platform to celebrate breast cancer survivors and co-survivors. We are very proud of the work we did together and wish them continued success in the future."
Churchill conducted a search and settled on Stand Up To Cancer, which raises funds to accelerate getting new therapies to patients, Rogers added.
But Oaks Day will still be "all about the ladies," said Kevin Flanery, Churchill Downs racetrack president. "When our female fans told us that cancer affects their lives in many different ways, we listened and responded with an opportunity for all our fans to get involved in supporting the research and prevention efforts of the many types of cancers that need our attention. We think this is a really strong fit as Stand Up To Cancer seeks to accelerate the development of new cancer treatments, and our exciting day of racing can help put them on the fast track to do just that."
Churchill Downs still will donate $1 for everyone who attends the Oaks, and other traditions such as the Survivors Parade and the "Pink Out!" will live on.
Can Churchill go pink without Komen, which elevated the color to a brand?
"Pink has been the official trademark of the Oaks for years," Rogers said.