The final days of Churchill Downs' inaugural September meet, dubbed the Homecoming Meet, bring the meet to a close this weekend. The 12-day meet wraps this weekend with live racing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The traditional fall meet returns Oct. 27.
Closing weekend of the September meet starts Friday with the "City's Best Happy Hour" from 4-7 p.m. in the Paddock Plaza. The event includes drink specials, plus $2 Budweisers and Bud Lights, $3 Stella Artois, and food trucks. Live music will be provided by cover band Kudmani. First post on the 10-race card is 1:45 p.m.
Saturday offers the meet’s final Downs After Dark. Fittingly, the theme for the night’s activities is “Homecoming Dance: A Night To Remember.” Relive the glory days of your high school homecoming dances and come dressed in your favorite homecoming inspired attire. Sounds Unlimited Productions will start the night as a DJ turns the table from 4-7:30 p.m. in the Paddock Plaza. Radiotronic takes the stage from 8-11:30 p.m. The Wilson Brothers will play jams from the ‘80s upstairs on the 5th floor of the Clubhouse. The Bet or No Bet contest sponsored by Thortons will also return in which one fan will have the chance to make a $1,000 win wager on the horse of their choice or take a $100 Thortons gift card. A Homecoming King and Queen will also be crowned.
The highlight of Saturday’s events is the inaugural $175,000-added Homecoming Classic in which the reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned heads a field of seven going 1 1/8 miles on the dirt. Trainer Ian Wilkes opted to keep Fort Larned home and prep for the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic instead of going to Belmont Park in New York for Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).
Fort Larned has had a rocky year. In his first start of the year Mar. 9, he tossed jockey Brian Hernandez at the start of the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2). He returned a month later in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) to finish a disappointing fifth. When he came back to his home track in Churchill’s Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) on June 15, he romped to a 6 ¼ length victory in wire-to-wire fashion. Two months later in the Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) at Saratoga, he failed to fire and was the beaten favorite by nearly three lengths. He should be comfortable with the return to his home track and the race should set him up nicely for a revisit to Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup.
Also on Saturday’s card is the $100,000 Jefferson Cup (G3) for three-year-olds going a mile on the turf. Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who are arguably having the best year of their career, will send out Redwood Kitten, third in the Del Mar Derby (G2) in his last start, and Gentlemen’s Kitten, who’s coming in off an allowance win at Saratoga.
Saturday’s events begin at 4:00 p.m. with the first race at 6:00 p.m. The final race on the 11-race card is scheduled to run at 11:10 p.m. General admission is $10 and no one under the age of 18 will be admitted without a parent or responsible adult. Reserved seating  prices start at $20.
The September meet concludes Sunday with Family Fun Day presented by Kroger. From 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. special activities geared towards the kids will take over the Plaza Balcony. Honey Hill Farm, who welcomed families opening weekend, returns Sunday with their petting zoo and pony rides (until 3:30 p.m.). Families won't want to miss this photo-op to have their kids don racing silks and take a ride on a miniature horse! In addition to the miniature horse, the petting zoo will include rabbits, chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, alpacas, and a donkey. Cookies and Canvas will also return to bring out the artist in your child. The Sunday craft from the Junior Jockey Club will allow the kids to create their own binoculars. First post on the 10-race card is 12:45 p.m.
Photo: J. Oswald