The 146th spring meeting at Churchill Downs will get underway on Saturday, May 16 and run through Saturday, June 27.

Below are some things that I observed last spring:

Dirt Racing

There were 288 races on the main oval during the 38-day meeting in 2019. Steve Asmussen won his 21st Churchill training crown in the spring, and he did much of his damage on the main surface. In total, the Hall of Fame conditioner won with 26 horses on the dirt. And 16 of those came in dashes.

Eddie Kenneally, who was second with 13 dirt first-placers, reached his number by winning at a sharp 36% win rate overall on the main strip. And he, too, was strong in one-turn events with 10 tallies from 29 starters (34%).

Speed was dangerous in both sprint and route races on dirt, but it was not dominant. From 166 sprint races on the main oval, 24% of the first-place finishers led from start to finish, with 23% of dirt routes taken by the leader at the first call.

The Churchill dirt can favor a certain part of the track on occasion, though it can be difficult to determine until a few races on a card have been contested. The rail can be very good on certain days, while horses running a few paths off the fence can have the advantage on other afternoons. It can be rewarding to pay attention early on race days.

From a post position standpoint, horses can win from any starting slot as we saw last season. But for what it’s worth, horses breaking from the middle of the pack (4-through-6) were best in the sprint endeavors.

Turf Racing

A total of 84 turf events were contested at Churchill Downs during the spring meeting of 2019, and 14 winners led at every call (17%). 11 recorded wire-to-wire tallies from 60 route events, while just three did so from 24 turf sprints (13%).

On the trainers’ front, Mike Maker saddled eight turf winners during the spring meet to lead the way. Rusty Arnold, Eddie Kenneally, and Brad Cox came next with five apiece.

Post position matters on the lawn, as 69% of grass races were won by horses breaking from posts 1-to-5. While field size can obviously help contribute to this fact, it is certainly a trend worth keeping track of this season.

Another trend that I have been intrigued by over the years is how the turf plays when it comes up soft or yielding. In my opinion, a good horse on the front end can become awfully hard to run down in the stretch if the green has a lot of give to it.


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