Thoroughbred tracks make conflicting requests for March, June and September racing dates

jpatton1@herald-leader.comOctober 1, 2012 

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission might be considering a very different racing calendar for next year.

The commission's race dates committee, which has pushed in recent years for innovative programming, got perhaps more than it bargained for Monday. Now the committee and the five Thoroughbred tracks must sort through conflicting requests for March, June and September.

Kentucky Downs, a turf- only track in Franklin that races a handful of dates, asked to increase its footprint next year to eight days, including a new three-date March meet. The track also asked to be considered "host track" for March and September; by state law, the other tracks must give the host track a percentage of simulcasting revenue.

Kentucky Downs has never had host track status. But president Corey Johnsen said the track has earned the right to ask for equal consideration given the $1.7 million it generated in the past year for purses at other tracks through instant racing, an electronic form of gambling based on previously run horse races.

But Keeneland, which races in April and October, expressed concerns. Rogers Beasley, vice president of racing, said he thinks giving March dates to Kentucky Downs could cut into the horses available to run at Keeneland and reduce the field size to fewer than a critical mass of eight horses per race.

Johnsen said his track wants to work with the others to create complementary circuits, with types of races the others aren't running to avoid the conflict.

Ellis Park in Henderson, meanwhile. wants a piece of Churchill Downs' June action. Ellis co-owner Ron Geary asked for the weekend before the Fourth of July, which falls midweek in 2013.

Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery said he opposed any possible "overlap" of meets as has happened in the past.

Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association president Rick Hiles said the horsemen oppose that as well but wouldn't commit to a preference on June.

But Hiles said they like the potential March adjustment.

"We think it's a pretty good idea," he told the committee. "Got a lot of purse money at Kentucky Downs."

The biggest problem looms in September: Churchill Downs, apparently at the behest of members of the committee, agreed to apply for the month, an additional 12 dates and host track status, taking a month of the calendar away from Turfway Park in Florence.

Flanery said Churchill anticipates it could offer average daily purses of $200,000 to $240,000, compared to the average of $97,000 Turfway offered last month.

Dr. Foster Northrop, a committee member, said that on the backside of Churchill and Keeneland, horsemen are very excited about this possibility. Hiles said his group hadn't taken a formal position but would support whatever choice the racing commission makes.

Turfway Park's Chip Bach, director of operations, and Clifford Reed, vice president and CFO, objected. Bach said losing host track status would cost $500,000 alone.

"If we lose September, it will critically injury our ability to carry on throughout the rest of the year," Bach said.

Several committee members pressed Turfway to encourage the track's new primary owners, Dan Gilbert's Rock Ohio Caesars, to make a financial commitment to the track, whether from instant racing or its Ohio casinos.

Commissioner Ned Bonnie called Turfway's purses "an embarrassment to Kentucky racing."

Reed said Turfway could boost average daily purses but probably would have to cut overall racing.

"We're not interested in fewer dates," said commissioner Frank Jones.

The committee tabled the calendar but will meet again before the commission meeting on Oct. 17.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service