Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009Tracks ask to drop 67 race dates
ALL BUT KEENELAND SEEK CUTS FOR 2010; YEAR-ROUND SCHEDULE REMAINS INTACT
By Janet Patton - firstname.lastname@example.org
Kentucky will lose about a fourth of its live Thoroughbred racing next year if the racing commission approves meet dates requested by the state’s ailing racetracks.
Churchill Downs, Turfway Park, Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs all asked for fewer race dates; only Keeneland asked for its traditional 32 days.
The proposed calendar is 67 days thinner than it historically would have been but preserves year-round racing, which is about all the state can ask at this point, said racing commission chairman Robert Beck.
“These dates are less than I would hope but I think everybody has justified why they are doing it,” Beck said. “It’s all economic.”
Churchill, Turfway and Ellis considered multiple options and consulted Kentucky horsemen to find the best way to shore up purses and keep full fields of runners, which makes for more betting.
Track officials said increased competition from states with purses and breeders’ incentives fueled by expanded gambling have forced them to cut back to stay afloat.
A bill that would have let Kentucky tracks put in video lottery terminals failed in the state Senate during a special legislative session in June. Another push is expected in January.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re faced with this situation,” said commissioner Thomas Gaines. “We’re presiding over the end of racing in Kentucky.”
The tracks presented their requests to the race dates committee on Monday. The committee voted to recommend the calendar to the full commission, which meets today, and must approve dates by Nov. 1.
The Thoroughbred racetracks asked for a total of 206 days of racing, down from 273 originally requested for 2009. However, several tracks dropped days to cut this year’s calendar to 239 days.
Turfway Park in Florence asked for the biggest cuts: the track wants to drop 33 days from the 114 it will race this year. Most of the cuts will come in January and February, when Turfway will drop down to three days a week. But track president Bob Elliston said that on the advice of horsemen the track decided not to drop winter racing entirely, which would leave Kentucky Thoroughbred owners and trainers with nowhere to run for two months, and force them to go out of state to make a living.
“If you move the calendar, ... folks would have two whole months where they don’t have an opportunity to earn anything in Kentucky,” Elliston said. Instead, he said, they will run in fewer races but for more money.
“We’re hoping for $140,000-$150,000 (average daily purses), which will compete favorably with West Virginia,” he said.
Churchill Downs asked to drop 11 days, including several days that the Louisville track dropped this year, for a total of 61 days. Churchill will not race on Tuesday of Kentucky Derby week, or on the rest of the Wednesdays in the spring meet.
“There are only two options: cut dates or cut purses,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack. “We’re rather keep purses at a level where we have some competitive firepower with other states.”
At the last minute, Churchill asked for July 3 and 4 weekend, although Flanery said night racing on those dates might be difficult with the holiday falling on Sunday.
Flanery said he is hearing from horsemen on the backside at his track that they feel they have to move some horses to slots-enriched states now. “What I’m hearing is trainers saying, ‘we tried to stay in Kentucky but we can’t.’ They are doing that in preparation for 2010, 2011, 2012,” Flanery said.
Ellis Park, which owner Ron Geary had originally said would close next year without expanded gambling to shore it up, asked for 27 days, which is down 21 from its original 2009 schedule.
Geary said this summer the Henderson track had a surprising success with three-day weeks by running on Sundays, when there is no competition from Indiana, and with more races on its turf course. But next year Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park purses could average as much as $100,000 more than Ellis can offer, he said.
On the Standardbred side, Players Bluegrass Downs in Paducah asked to cut three of its 18 days; The Red Mile wants to drop two days and move its fall Grand Circuit back two weeks because of the World Equestrian Games.