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Hoofbeats and handle

CRAWFORD | No fans in the stands, but Churchill Downs' opening saw huge wagering increase

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Churchill Downs empty stands racing

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The re-opening of Churchill Downs for live racing Saturday drew immense interest from trainers and owners around the country anxious to get back to work -- and winning purses -- from the COVID-19 shutdowns.

And it turns out, it drew big interest from bettors, too. The opening day of the 2019 meet -- a night-racing program that drew revelers to the highly decorated Churchill Downs grandstand for an evening of concerts and other activities amid the races, drew just over $5 million in wagers.

Saturday's 11-race card, which was run without fans and opened to bugler Steve Buttleman playing the call to post before the eerie scene of horses taking to the track under silent Spires, nonetheless drew $14.279 million in wagers as horseplayers and others flocked to one of the only games in town via TwinSpires.com.

That's an increase of of 183.7%, according to some quick math by Churchill Downs VP of communications Darren Rogers. And it's good news for the sport in Kentucky.

Sunday's 11-race card will feature close to 11 full fields, with more than 101 trainers and 49 jockeys involved, many among the most notable in the nation. Races will be televised as part of coverage from FS1 and FS2. First post is at 1 p.m.

Steve Buttleman empty Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs bugler Steve Buttleman played the call to post as horses walked onto the track for Saturday's first race -- without fans.

On the track Saturday, 2018 Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl was the headliner, coming back from a year-and-a-half layoff to easily beat an allowance field for trainer Brad Cox.

Ridden by Florent Geroux, Monomoy Girl sat just off the early pace set by Fashion Faux Pas and Talk Veuve to Me, then effortlessly took command at the top of the lane and drew off to a comfortable 2 ½-length victory over a muddy track.

“I felt very confident when she came off the turn in front,” Cox said. “It was a great race off the layoff. It was very positive seeing her be able to rate behind horses like that.”

Monomoy Girl went on the sidelines in September after suffering a minor hamstring pull but returned to Cox’s string in February to begin prepping for a 5-year-old campaign.

“I was starting to doubt her return at that point,” Cox said. “I remember when it happened when she just wasn’t right after a work in September. I thought that was going to be the end of her career on the racetrack and she’d become a mom but these guys that own her are game and it’s good for the sport to see her return to the races.”

Cox's plan now will be to point Monomoy Girl toward the Breeders' Cup. She could go again at Churchill in the June 22 Fleur de Lis Stakes (Grade 2), or in a stakes race in New York, depending on the schedule there.

The leading trainer on Churchill's opening day was Cherie DeVaux, a longtime assistant to Chad Brown who struck out on her own in May of 2018. She saddled a pair of winners on a competitive day -- Dinar in race No. 8, and Reagan's Edge in the nightcap, the biggest long shot of the day to find the winner's circle, paying $27.

I am extremely proud of our entire staff for starting our Churchill Downs spring meet on such a high note," DeVaux said via Twitter. "This winter had its challenges but the persistence, hard work and patience surely paid off today. Thank you to our clients for sticking it out."

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