CINCINNATI — Kevin Kline came to Wednesday's post-position draw for Turfway Park's 42nd running of its Spiral Stakes filled with optimistic declarations befitting an official of the race's title sponsor.
And empowering as it was to hear the senior vice president of Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati publicly affirm a commitment to its Thoroughbred racing partner, it is the tangible steps taken by the gaming ownership group that has Turfway Park General Manager Chip Bach encouraged that his track can endure despite its economic strife.
That Turfway's draw festivities were held in the glittering new Horseshoe facility was seen by Bach as further proof that Rock Ohio Caesars — the joint venture between Rock Gaming and Caesars Entertainment which owns both Turfway and Horseshoe Cincinnati — has made the health of its racing product a priority.
Weeks before Horseshoe Cincinnati opened on March 4, it was announced the casino would sponsor this year's Grade III Spiral Stakes, raising the purse to its largest in a decade at $550,000.
While throwing some money at a cash-strapped product is a help, Kline and other officials have made repeated visits to the track and vowed to do all they can to shore up Turfway's product. Some of that effort will be seen Saturday as the Spiral's VIP Tent will have increased amenities but, for the long term, Bach says Horseshoe is already plotting ways for both venues to share patrons.
"I think the bottom line is this is it, this is the epitome of what the partnership brings us," Bach said Wednesday, gesturing to the casino hospitality around him. "This demonstrates Horseshoe's desire for us to be better. They want us to succeed, they want the race to be better.
"They wanted to make sure the race was bigger than it has been in over a decade, that's why it's $550,000 this year," Bach continued. "And really if our purse structure could have afforded it, they wanted it greater than that. They are all about world-class delivery, all about taking a sincere interest in making our facility better. And I know they will."
Keeneland maintains a 10 percent ownership of Turfway.
Turfway's hardships have increased in recent years as the Kentucky racing circuit as a whole continues to struggle in the face of competition from neighboring jurisdictions that offer slots-fueled purses.
Last October the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission shifted the 2013 September racing dates away from Turfway to Churchill Downs, and for much of February and March the Florence track has cut its schedule to two days of live racing a week in order to help maintain average daily purses.
Bach dismissed the notion that Horseshoe Cincinnati will further lure customers away from the track, stating "that business is gone. People that went to casinos went (away from Turfway) 15-20 years ago."
Bach maintains the lack of expanded gaming in Kentucky remains the staunchest obstacle, especially since Turfway now has a prime partner to capitalize should it ever come to fruition.
"I think they (Horseshoe) have a commitment. There are some other people out there who need to get busy," Bach said. "I know Instant Racing is in the courts system now. We have perhaps the biggest and best player in the industry that is willing to invest in our property when it happens. All they need is the legislative ability to do it."
Should that legislative ability not come through, Bach said the "Plan B" for now is simply to "keep pressure on" the cause.
As Turfway and its horsemen try to cope and move forward, Bach feels the track has an energized ally in its corner.
"I've come to appreciate what a great sport (horse racing) is, what a great history and tradition exists here in Kentucky as well as what a great history and tradition exists at Turfway Park," Kline said Wednesday. "We've already begun thinking about ... how to elevate the profile not just of the Spiral Stakes but of the facilities and experience that Turfway creates day in and out in Northern Kentucky.
"We are very committed to reinvesting in Turfway and committed to the sport."
What: Kentucky Derby prep race for 3-year-olds
When: Saturday, 5:50 p.m.
Where: Turfway Park
Distance: 11⁄8 miles
Derby points: 50 to winner, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.