Rick Hammerle, among horse racing's most respected and innovative officials; popular New England sportscaster and former NBC racing analyst Bob Neumeier, and jockey Aaron Gryder are joining the Kentucky Downs team for America's most unique race meet.
Kentucky Downs runs Aug. 31 and Sept. 5, 7, 8 and 12. The all-turf meet offers America's largest field sizes, among the lowest overall takeout rates and the highest average daily purses in North America, Europe and Hong Kong at more than $2.3 million a day.
Hammerle will serve as Kentucky Downs' director of horsemen's relations and racing operations, working closely with racing secretary Tyler Picklesimer and senior vice president and general manager Ted Nicholson.
Hammerle spent the past 16 years directing Santa Anita Park's racing program as racing secretary, including for a record seven Breeders' Cup championships. Hammerle earned a reputation as a strong conduit for communication between horsemen and management in Southern California and pioneered using email and texting services to give owners and trainers real-time information.
He has been a weekly guest on the online radio show "At the Races with Steve Byk" since the show's 2005 inception. Hammerle was a long-time member of the American Graded Stakes committee and the Breeders' Cup field selection committee.
"I'm a utility man; I'll do whatever they need," said Hammerle, who recently was also hired to be racing coordinator at Oaklawn Park's winter and spring meet. "I worked in California, obviously, and I've been in New Jersey, the East Coast and Florida. But the Midwest is new to me. And you know what? I love it. Because I'm going to meet some new people. I'm really excited to come out there. Whatever Tyler and Ted need, I'm in."
"Kentucky Downs is so fan friendly. It's what tracks should model themselves after. Between the Kentucky tracks and Oaklawn Park, they've got the formula. They love their racing, they love their horsemen and they love their fans -- and it shows."
Neumeier will be the guest paddock analyst along with Caton Bredar on Sept. 7, when Kentucky Downs will have five stakes (four graded) totaling $3.2 million, headed by the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup and the $700,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, a Challenge Series "Win and You're In" race for the $1 million, Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita. Neumeier is well-known to racing enthusiasts from his past work on NBC's Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup coverage.
Gryder will join Bredar doing on-air analysis on Sept. 5, 8 and 12 when he is not riding. A jockey for more than 30 years, Gryder has won almost 4,000 races around the globe and more than $122 million in purse earnings, including the Dubai World Cup on Well Armed in 2009. He has worked as a racing analyst when grounded by injuries.
In addition, Scott Jordan, the starter at Churchill Downs and Ellis Park, will oversee the loading of horses into the gate and the start of races at Kentucky Downs. Jordan, who became Churchill's head starter in 2006, assumes the Kentucky Downs position following the June 3 death of Robert "Spec" Alexander, who became an institution during almost 40 years of starting the races at Keeneland.
Kentucky Downs announced in November that Michael Wrona, long regarded among the world's premier announcers, will be the new voice of the track.
"We are always looking for ways to enhance the experience of Kentucky Downs racing for our on-track guests, which includes our horsemen, and those betting our races around the country," Nicholson said. "We're blessed to have among the very best in the business join the team for the fastest five days in horse racing. Rick Hammerle enhances any racing operation in which he's involved with his extensive contacts, experience at the sport's highest level, big-picture view and outgoing and unflappable personality.
"We know the racing public will enjoy watching Caton Bredar work with Bob Neumeier on Sept. 7, our biggest day of racing in track history. Neumie is personable and funny, but most importantly he's insightful and knowledgeable and an ideal complement to Caton, who is the gold standard for paddock analysts.
"Aaron Gryder, who has ridden and will continue to ride at Kentucky Downs, provides an insider's view of the most distinctive course in America as well as the perspective of someone who has been in 30,000 races around the world."
Also joining Kentucky Downs' all-star team:
David Loignan will oversee the broadcasting of Kentucky Downs' race meet. Loignan's television production company in Austin, Tex., is the event producer for Circuit of The Americas Grand Prix racing and works with ESPN Event Production on the X Games Austin and X Games Aspen. He has an extensive horse-racing background, serving as general manager for Churchill Downs Simulcast Productions for six years and working for TVG as supervising producer when that network was being launched.
Coady Photography, America's premier professionals for shooting racetrack pictures, takes over as Kentucky Downs' official track photographer, giving the company the contracts at all five thoroughbred tracks in the state. Brothers Kurtis, Kevin and Shawn Coady are third-generation track photographers with the company approaching 60 years in the game.