Breeders' Cup: Churchill Downs' Track Should be Fair

After the slow times turned in on Sunday's opening day card, and the forecast of freezing low temperatures for Friday and Saturday, the typical warning flares went up.

How fair will the track be for the Breeders' Cup and what can be done to prevent the track from becoming cuppy, a condition no trainer wants to see, especially those coming from harder surfaces and synthetic tracks?

Track superintendent Butch Lehr has had his share of pressure over the years, dealing with the Kentucky Derby, but with the Breeders' Cup, he has to make things as fair as possible for well over 100 horses, who will be running at distances ranging from five furlongs to 1 3/4 miles, and on dirt and turf.

"There's definitely a little bit of pressure right now, because a lot of these horses have never run on dirt," Lehr said. "But it's more so for the general public than it is for the racing people. We try to be the same all year round, so in that respect, it's not very different from what we're always trying to do. But let's just say I'm glad I'm not a rookie."

Some have questioned running a Breeders' Cup held in Kentucky in November, but as for the predicted cold weather, Lehr is not expecting any problems.

"If we had terrible weather, as far as rain on top of the freezing temperatures, I think it would have created a lot of controversy,' Lehr said. "I've had meetings with the Breeders' Cup about what happens if it's inclement weather. To me, if we didn't lose any of the racetrack for Smarty Jones' Derby, we never will. That was the closest I ever came to losing the racetrack. We had 10 inches of rain, and all the sewers were stopped up, which caused that. Because of all the construction that was going on at the time, nobody knew it until the last minute. That was my worst nightmare, but we got through that.

"We do have lights now, so we have more options. We can hold off for a few minutes if we had to. The way it looks now, the weather is going to be working with us. We're going to have near-freezing temperatures, but that won't bother us."

Addressing the possibility that the track could turn cuppy without the proper amount of water being added to it, Lehr assured everything will be done to prevent that.

"It's all about keeping the right amount of moisture," he said. "On Sunday, the wind wouldn't let it lay down, but we have to deal with that. It was a little behind on the moisture Sunday, which made the times a bit slow, but it wasn't terrible. As long as the temperature doesn't get down in the teens, we'll be OK. Normally, this time of the year, we're trying to get moisture out of the track, but this year we're trying to keep it in. Weather-wise, it looks really good; better than normal. There are always going to be some people who are critical of the track, and this probably won't be any different, but we accept that. I tell everybody, that's why I'm on four different blood pressure medicines."

(Originally posted on

About the Author

Steve Haskin

Steve Haskin is Senior Contributor to The Blood-Horse magazine, sister publication to The Horse.

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