(Billy Berry, Churchill Downs’ gap attendant / Janet Vaughn Photo & Courtesy of Churchill Downs)
From the Churchill Downs Media Team:
His laugh is unmistakable and his attention to detail is unmatched. In his 47th year at the racetrack, Churchill Downs veteran gap attendant Bill Berry does not miss any of the action outside of his clocker stand located at the six-furlong gap.
Berry’s career at the racetrack has taken him from California to New York and, now, Kentucky but he did not start working at the racetrack until he was 22-years-old.
“I worked in the factory for Capital Records back in the late 1960s into the early 1970s,” Berry said. “Obviously, life was a little bit different for everyone back in the 70s, if you know what I mean. One day, I just got tired of going to the factory for work and thought it was time to find something different. I had an okay job and got some good deals on records. I had quite the collection back in the day. The best part about that job is we’d get to listen to the master copies of records. To this day, the harmonies of The Beatles remains unmatched. After I got tired of factory life, I saw some people at the racetrack who looked like me. I thought it would be cool to go check it out and see if I can find work there.”
Berry made his way to Hollywood Park and the next day began working for Irish-born trainer Tommy Doyle.
“I walked the backside at Hollywood Park and saw these gorgeous animals,” Berry continued. “That’s what got me hooked. Here were these 1,000-pound horses, with perfectly shiny coats and these bright, white, wraps on their legs. They’re gorgeous.”
Berry’s racing stories are endless. He spent the majority of his career, and life, in Southern California and was around some of the most famous horses at the time, including Hall of Famer Cougar II.
“Cougar II, he was an absolute runner,” Berry said. “I got to see them all during my time in California. Between all of the superstar horses and jockeys, it was some of the best racing in the world at the time. I was always a (Laffit) Pincay guy as far as jockeys go. It was so much fun to watch these guys go at it on the racetrack. You can tell they’d be riding their hearts out but the strength and wit Pincay had was unmatched.”
After several years on the backstretch at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, Berry took a break from the racetrack in the early 1980s and took all of the money he had and spent some time off in Hawaii.
“I just needed a little time off so I packed up my stuff, cashed out my checks and went to Hawaii,” Berry said. “I spent three solid months watching the ocean up on the beach, playing my guitar and surfing a lot of good waves. Eventually, all good things must come to an end. As my money started to run dry, I made my way back to work.”
Berry’s first time in Kentucky was in 1982 for the 108th running of the Kentucky Derby. After his time in Hawaii, Berry wanted to see what a Kentucky Derby was like in person.
“I’ve heard everyone talk about the Kentucky Derby but I needed to see it in person,” Berry said. “I came to Kentucky for the first time in 1982 for that year’s Derby. Just past my gap, I can still picture where I saw Gato del Sol grazing in the grass. He ran second in that year’s Blue Grass and I remember I was looking for which horse I wanted to bet in that year’s Derby. I got a little info from the people around the barn and that was that.”
Berry has spent the last eight years working at the “Baffert Gap.” During his tenure, he has seen some of Baffert’s top horses come on to the track, including Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify.
“This is such a special place to be,” said Berry, who celebrated his 71st birthday in February. “How can you beat this job? Every day I get to talk to people and share stories. Yeah, my golf game is okay but nothing beats this spot at the racetrack. This is as good as it gets.”
(Arklow winning at KY Downs / Photo Courtesy of KY Downs)
ARKLOW MADE 8-5 FAVORITE IN SATURDAY’S $100,000 LOUISVILLE –Donegal Racing, Joseph Bugler and Peter Coneway’s Grade I-winning turf specialistArklow was made the 8-5 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $100,000 Louisville presented by Longines (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
The 1 ½-mile Louisville, run on the Matt Winn Turf Course, is carded as the 11th and final race on Saturday’s program. First post is 1 p.m. (all times Eastern) and post time for the Louisville is 6:22 p.m.
Trained by current Churchill Downs leading trainer Brad Cox, Arklow will make his first start since a fifth-place finish in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (GI) in January at Gulfstream Park. The 6-year-old son of Arch has been training consistently at Churchill Downs with back-to-back workouts over the turf course with jockey FlorentGeroux aboard.
Arklow has recorded six victories in 25 starts including a win over the Matt Winn Turf Course at age 3 in the $300,000 American Turf (GII) in 2017. Arklow competed in some of the nation’s most prestigious turf races at age 4 and 5, including the 2018 and 2019 editions of the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI). In the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf, Arklow finished a well-beaten fourth behind the thrilling stretch duel of Enable (GB) and Magical (IRE). Arklow returned to the Breeders’ Cup in 2019 and finished eighth, but was only defeated 2 ¾ lengths by Bricks and Mortar. Geroux has the call of Saturday’s Louisville and will break from post No. 5.
The Louisville field from the rail out (with jockey, trainer and morning line odds):Perfect Tapatino (FR) (Adam Beschizza, Roger Attfield, 20-1); Sky Promise (David Cohen, Robertino Diodoro, 20-1); Apreciado (Martin Garcia, Mike Maker, 12-1); He’s No Lemon (Rafael Bejarano, Graham Motion, 15-1); Arklow (Geroux, Cox, 8-5); Tiz a Slam (Tyler Gaffalione, Attfield, 7-2); Lombo (Tyler Baze, Phil D’Amato, 30-1); Jais’s Solitude(Corey Lanerie, Eddie Kenneally, 20-1); Golden Dragon (Joe Talamo, Maker, 30-1);Fearsome (GB) (James Graham, Cyril Murphy, 15-1); Ry’s the Guy (Chris Landeros, Ian Wilkes, 20-1); Admission Office (Julien Leparoux, Brian Lynch, 3-1).
MEET LEADERS – Jockey Tyler Gaffalione entered Thursday with a 15-12 win lead overCorey Lanerie in the rider standings. Ricardo Santana Jr. was in third with 11 wins. … Brad Cox had a three-win margin over Brendan Walsh in the trainer standings 11-8 wins. Steve Asmussen was in third with six wins. … Ken and Sarah Ramsey had a 4-3 win advantage in the owner standings over Calumet Farm, Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirschand Gary and Mary West.
MILESTONE WATCH – Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen was one win behind Dale Romans for the all-time win lead at Churchill Downs. At the start of racing on Thursday, Asmussen trailed 737-to-736 wins. He had three horses entered while Romans had two. … Bill Mott was two wins away from 5,000-career victories. On Thursday, he had three horses entered at Belmont and one at Churchill Downs.
CHURCHILL DOWNS PARTNERS WITH NYRA FOR CROSS-COUNTRY PICK 5 ON SATURDAY – Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association have partnered to offer a cross-country Pick 5 on Saturday with three races from Churchill Downs and two from Belmont Park.
Belmont will kick off the sequence with Race 7 at 4:32 p.m. (all times Eastern) when a full field of filly and mare maidens compete on the Widener turf course at one mile.
Action will alternate between the two tracks with Churchill hosting the second leg with Race 8 at 4:46 p.m. Another full field will compete on the turf with fillies and mares 3-years-old and up comprising the 5 ½-furlong allowance sprint. Race 8 at Belmont, set for 5:04 p.m., will see New York-bred fillies and mares run six furlongs on Big Sandy.
Churchill will then host the final two legs, with another allowance sprint in Race 10 at 5:50 p.m. that offers a full field of 12 at 6 ½ furlongs on the main track.
The concluding race will be the Cross Country Pick 5’s lone stakes race at 6:22 p.m.: the Grade III, $100,000 Louisville at 1 ½ miles on the turf headlined by Grade I-winning $1.8 million earner Arklow.
The minimum bet for the multi-track, multi-race wager is 50 cents. Wagering on the Cross Country Pick 5 is also available on ADW platforms including www.twinspires.com.
DOWN THE STRETCH – Racing continued Thursday at Churchill Downs with a first post of 1 p.m. … For racing on Thursday and Friday, the rail on the Matt Winn Turf Course will be in Lane 2, 15 feet from the inside hedge. The rail will be removed for racing on Saturday and Sunday. … Churchill Downs’ Backside Learning Center launched their Purses for a Purpose campaign which several horse owners will donate portions of their winnings to the Backside Learning Center. For more information, visitwww.backsidelearningcenter.org/purses-for-a-purpose. … “Inside Churchill Downs” will air Friday at 6 p.m. on ESPN 680/105.7. The one-hour horse-racing program is hosted by Churchill Downs’ Darren Rogers and Kevin Kerstein, along with TwinSpires.comhandicapper Scott Shapiro. For those outside the Louisville area, the show will air live onwww.espnlouisville.com.