Churchill Downs plans to double down on night racing next year, offering twice as many racing events under new permanent lights in hopes of whipping up interest long after the Kentucky Derby.
The historic Louisville track said Tuesday it intends to host six night racing events in 2010 _ four during the spring meet and two in the fall _ pending approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
Churchill debuted night racing under temporary lighting at three events during this year's spring meet. Attendance averaged 29,705, far above the typical turnout for those dates.
"This is about doing something for the future of racing, and the future of racing at Churchill Downs," track President Kevin Flanery said at a news conference.
Asked if the Derby might some day be run at night, Flanery replied "you never say never," but added that the focus now is on operating racing under the lights and the experience for fans.
"Let's get that right first," he said.
Churchill said earlier in the year that it was dabbling in racing under the lights _ called "Downs After Dark" _ on a test basis on two nights in June and one in July during the 2009 spring meet.
On Tuesday, Flanery said Churchill was looking forward to night racing as a "permanent fixture."
Track officials are looking at 20 to 30 options to keep night racing "fresh" for the long haul, he said. Night racing featured live music, drink specials and dining this year.
"We're investing a substantial number of dollars because we want to make this special for a number of years," Flanery said.
Night racing in 2010 is planned for the final four Fridays of next year's spring meet _ June 11, 18 and 25 and July 2 _ as well as Halloween night and Friday, Nov. 19 in the fall, the track said.
Churchill selected Musco Lighting, based in Oskaloosa, Iowa, to install permanent track lighting in what Flanery called a $3 million to $4 million project. Musco also provided the temporary lighting at Churchill.
Musco Vice President Jeff Rogers called it an honor "to light this iconic American facility."
Churchill is scheduled to host the Breeders' Cup in early November of 2010.
Asked about the possibility of having racing later than usual, Flanery said the track hasn't had formal talks with the Breeders' Cup about lights but added "certainly we'll listen" if the subject arises.
"One of the great things about the lights is it does give us options," he said.
Beating darkness has been a concern during previous Breeders' Cup visits because of the unpredictable nature of the weather in Louisville during the fall.
Night racing is hardly a novelty in the industry. Turfway Park in northern Kentucky has done it for decades, and night racing is a fixture at other tracks around the country.
Churchill also has not been spared from the economic struggles facing racetracks. Churchill slashed seven lightly attended race days from its spring racing calendar this year.