By Gene McLean

LOUISVILLE, KY (June 30, 2017) – It’s still a couple of days away from the Fourth of July fireworks celebration, but there will be a lot of action to light up the crowd on Friday night when Churchill Downs concludes its’ highly successful Spring/Summer race meeting.

 

There will be three major Stakes Events to headline an 11-race card that will begin the “Downs After Dark” extravaganza. Gates will open at 5 p.m., with the first post scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

 

“It’s been a great meet, for all of us,” said trainer Ian Wilkes, who has contended with Steve Asmussen for the Trainer’s Title all the way through the 38-day meeting. “There’s been a lot of good racing. There has been a lot of good crowds. I can’t complain. It’s been great.”

 

And, closing night doesn’t expect to be anything less than great, as well. The “theme” for the “Downs After Dark” finale is “Downs Does the Decades.” Guests and fans, alike, are encouraged to dress up for the festive occasion in their favorite attire from the 1950s to the 1990s.

 

You can go all the way from “Gangster” to “Disco,” and with all the fan favorites and attractions in full bloom, spectators can dance the night away under the Churchill Downs Twin Spires and the stars above.

 

General admission to Churchill Downs is $10 on Friday night. Box seats are $25, and reserved dining packages are $70. You can order at www.ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets.

 

New this year is the Guest Chef Series @ Millionaire’s Row, which will showcase Chef Patrick Roney of Harvest. The $149 tickets include a specially-designed menu by Roney and a full-bar package featuring specialty cocktails by Finlandia Vodka.

 

The evening’s entertainment includes music on the Plaza Stage courtesy of The Wannabeatles from 6-7:30 p.m., Tony & The Tan Lines from 7:30-11 p.m. and DJ Matt Anthony from 11 p.m. until midnight.

 

There also will be a decades-inspired fashion contest, disco and cocktail demonstrations, Kentucky’s largest disco ball, the Magbooth Retro Bus Photo Booth and “Bet or No Bet” where four lucky fans can take $100 in cash or place a free $1,000 win bet on a horse in Races 6-9.

 

But the action always begins – and ends – on the racetrack. In addition to the eight exciting races carded, the string of three major Stakes events will begin with the Grade 3, $100,000 Bashford Manor Stakes – which will be held for the 116th renewal.

 

The Bashord Manor – a 6-furlong sprint for 2-year-olds – is one of Churchill’s most historic, annual racing mainstays. And, this year is no different. It has drawn a stellar field of six, led by Copper Bullet.

 

Copper Bullet is trained by the meet’s leading trainer, Steve Asmussen, who will be attempting to win the Basford Manor for the fifth time.

 

Asmussen already has made this a historic race meeting, becoming only the third trainer in the storied history of Churchill Downs to win more than 600 races under the Twin Spires. He trails only Bill Mott and Dale Romans as the leading trainer in the history of Churchill.

 

Now, “Superman” will try to prove his horse is faster than a speeding bullet. Namely, in the form of Copper Bullet – who broke his maiden by a whopping eight lengths.

 

“He actually looks like a 3-year-old,” said Churchill Downs’ official clocker John Nichols, who observes and records all workouts between 6-10 a.m. daily. “He’s just a big, good-looking, strapping colt. He’s got a lot of size to him. He’s one I think that might kind of like the grass down the line, but the way he won his second start here … he cleared that easy and the rider (Florent Geroux) just really never asked him.

 

“He’s come back and trained well since. He’s been working head-and-head the last three weeks with She’s a Julie, who Asmussen is putting in the Debutante; she’s a nice filly – probably his best at this time of the year right now.”

 

Copper Bullet, a Kentucky-bred son of the versatile sire More Than Ready, is owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Willis Horton Racing. (For those of you who are historians of Thoroughbred racing, the Winchell name dates all the way back to when Verne Winchell purchased his first Thoroughbred at public auction — Donut King. He was one of the favorites to win the Kentucky Derby in 1954 before sustaining an injury the week of the race and did not run). Copper Bullet – now owned in part by Verne Winchell’s son, Ron — was selected out of the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and was purchased for what could be considered a reasonable sum of $200,000.

 

Copper Bullet won the second race of his career, a 5-furlong maiden special weight event at Churchill Downs on May 25 by an easy eight lengths in an eye-popping time of :57.76. For his efforts, Copper Bullet achieved a Beyer Speed Figure of 75 – one of the best for his age group all year. As of June 25, there had been 188 juvenile winners in North America. Copper Bullet’s time was one of only seven that achieved a Beyer number of 75 or higher.

 

Now, Copper Bullet will try to run his speed a furlong farther and run Asmussen to his fifth Bashford Manor winner’s circle. Asmussen previously won the Bashford Manor with Lunarpal (2004), Kodiak Kowboy (2007), Kantharos (2010) and Cinco Charlie (2014).

 

If Asmussen could win this edition, he will join Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas for the most victories ever in the Bashford Manor.

 

Copper Bullet’s main competition should come from either Mo Diddley or Ten City.

 

The other two stakes on the card Friday night are the $100,000 Debutante Stakes – the sister race to the Bashford Manor – for 2-year-old fillies going 6 furlongs, and the $70,000-added Kelly’s Landing.

 

Unlike the Bashford Manor’s concise field of 6, the Debutante has drawn a field of 13 contenders for the 117th running, led by She’s a Julie.

 

She’s a Julie, a $160,000 yearling buy, won her debut by an impressive 51/4 lengths on May 26 at Churchill Downs in a time of :58.68 for the 5 furlongs. She, too, is trained by Asmussen, and she will forever be known as the horse that gave him his 600th career victory at the Downs.

 

Asmussen will try to win his fifth Debutante Stakes. He has previously won the Stakes with Cashier’s Dream (2001), Effectual (2005), Richwoman (2006), Rated Fiesty (2007). Lukas holds the Debutante record for most wins by a trainer with seven.

 

Limousine Liberal, who already has had a superb Spring/Summer meet here, comes back in the 7-furlong Kelly’s Landing, which has drawn a full field of 14 for the eight renewal.

 

Limousine Liberal, owned by Katherine Ball, has already won the Grade 2, $500,000 Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day and the Grade 3, $100,000 Aristides Stakes on June 3.

 

With a win Friday night, Limousine Liberal would join Finley’sluckcharm as a three-time stakes winner this meet.