After a morning of workouts that showed it just was not ready yet, the turf course at Churchill Downs had racing suspended again Tuesday afternoon, taking four stakes races Saturday and Sunday off the troubled new track.
“They allowed us to work inside the cones,” trainer Michelle Lovell, who had two horses breeze on the turf, told Horse Racing Nation on Monday evening. “It was good for the work, but it did pull divots out. I walked the turf course (Monday), and it was safe to work on. It’s going to be a beautiful course when it does take hold and grow. It just needs a little more time, I think.”
In a news release to announce the continued suspension that began June 11, Churchill Downs said the root system needs to develop more underneath the course that was replaced last year at a cost of $10 million and reopened at the start of the current meet April 30.
“The root system for the new Bermuda-hybrid continues to mature each day, and its development has benefited from the warm climate and 2 1/2-week rest,” Churchill Downs president Mike Anderson said in the news release. “It’s not where we want it to be just yet. Additional time is needed for the course to become more robust, and we’ll give it time.”
Four horses were clocked going a half-mile over what was called firm turf Tuesday with workers kept inside “the dogs” (cones) and gallopers to the outside. Trainer Wayne Catalano’s 3-year-old colt Big Woo was clocked at a bullet time of 46.8 seconds.
“My horse went 46-and-4, that’s all I can say,” Catalano told HRN on Tuesday afternoon. “When they went back to look at the way they dug it up, the way they handled it, that’s a different story. The horse handled it good as far as I was concerned, but I didn’t go look at the surface after the works.”
The Wise Dan Stakes (G2) for older horses, which would have been run Saturday, was completely canceled. Three other stakes that were intended for the turf this weekend will be transferred at their posted distances to the main track. They include Saturday’s American Derby, Saturday’s Tepin and Sunday’s Anchorage overnight.
Even under the best of circumstances, the turf races might have been in peril anyway. The National Weather Service forecast a 60 percent chance of precipitation both Saturday and Sunday for Louisville, Ky.
The suspension of turf racing renewed questions about the Arlington Million (G1) card in August. The races were moved to Kentucky by Churchill Downs Inc., which closed the Arlington racecourse near Chicago last fall. Racing secretary Ben Huffman told Daily Racing Form that there had been no discussion about moving the Aug. 13 card again.
If there were to be a change of plans, one option would seem to be moving the Arlington Million card to Colonial Downs, which CDI announced in February that it was acquiring as part of its $2.485 billion purchase of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment. Without commenting directly on the possibility, Colonial Downs vice president of racing Jill Byrne said the “CDI purchase has not closed yet.”