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Under the Lights

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HONG KONG - APRIL 23: A general view of the racecourse from the Hong Kong Jockey Clubs administration building during the Happy Valley Night Races on April 23, 2008 in Hong Kong. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)
HONG KONG - APRIL 23: A general view of the racecourse from the Hong Kong Jockey Clubs administration building during the Happy Valley Night Races on April 23, 2008 in Hong Kong. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

Earlier today, the Breeders' Cup announced that the Ladies' Classic (Distaff) will be run under the lights at 7:30pm on Friday at Churchill Downs, while the Breeders' Cup Classic will go to post at 6:45pm local time the next day.   This will mark the first time in Breeders' Cup history that a race will be scheduled to run at night.

One of the things that has always perplexed me about horse racing is the fact that much of the thoroughbred racing in North America takes place during the afternoon as opposed to in the evening.  Much of this has to do with both tradition and infrastructure: most tracks have always run during the day and many don't even have proper lighting in order to run an card during the evening. But at the same time, it would seem that running races during weekday afternoons would severely limit the potential number of players that a track could conceivab ly attract.

Hollywood Park schedules their first post on Friday evenings for 7pm, and Churchill Downs will once again present their "Downs After Dark" program this summer under their recently installed lighting system.  My local track here in Seattle, Emerald Downs, runs all of their Thursday and Friday races in the evening and weekend races in mid-afternoon.  But many other tracks around the country run all of their races during the day: Arlington, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Belmont, Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Keeeneland, just to name a few.

Most of us don't play the races as our full-time job, rather it's a hobby that we dabble in during our free time.  While I'd love to be able to play the races on a daily basis, sitting in my office during the afternoon with my laptop open to Youbet or TwinSpires.com is probably a good way to become unemployed.  (Thankfully, Washington state doen't have OTBs, or else I might take the mother of all lunch breaks.  It's also a good thing that when I was going to school in Chicago that I wasn't as die-hard of a horseplayer because an OTB just blocks from my graduate school...I would have never made it to class.)  

Would I play more if races were all run in the evenings?  Perhaps it wouldn't make much of a difference with the tracks in the Midwest or the East Coast given the time difference, but the weekday cards at Santa Anita and Del Mar would probably see more action from my direction if they were to run in the evenings.

With Churchill Downs serious about expanding their evening racing program, and if they find it to be successful, I wonder if we'll see more tracks re-evaluate their weekday racing schedules.