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Churchill Downs makes history with September meet

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Churchill Downs will conduct a third card for the first time in its 139-year history with Friday's opening of the Homecoming Meet at the historic track.

The 12-day card, Churchill's first in September, will run on weekends through Sept. 29 and features eight stakes races. Four will be held during Saturday's "Downs After Dark" card, one of two evening events along with Sept. 28.

Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers said the additional meet is not a one-time deal, with the facility already seeking the same dates for next year.

Three of Saturday night's stakes races — the Grade 2 Pocahontas and Grade 3 Iroquois and Ack Ack Handicap — were moved from Churchill's fall card. Also scheduled is the $100,000-added Locust Grove stakes.

Rogers said adding a meet between its traditional spring and fall dates is a challenge that the track looks forward to.

"We are not taking a one-and-done approach," he said. "We think this makes sense and helps stabilize the Kentucky circuit, which is beneficial for our state's horse industry.

"Our daily overnight prize money is going to more than $400,000 a day, which is important for horsemen racing on a day-in and day-out basis here. If we can create some big marquee events to fill some high profile stakes races as well, we will do that."

One new event on the inaugural schedule is the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic on Sept. 28, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up on the main track. Rogers said the other stakes races were either on hiatus or moved if they seemed to fit better on the September schedule.

As for the new race, Rogers added, "we are also very excited about the Homecoming Classic. ... It's the most lucrative one on the calendar. It is a good starting point for us. We think this is a race that we can grow down the road."

Churchill Downs is also using college football as an attraction by dubbing Saturday's card College Rivalry Night, where fans will be asked which team they support with the top three earning scholarships of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000.

Additionally, the Sept. 14 Governor's Cup game between Louisville and Kentucky will be aired with audio on a video board.

"We are going to go head to head with football and have some fun with it," Rogers said