Kentucky racetracks are again battling over who will race in September. Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park and Churchill Downs all want some dates in the month.
Churchill Downs Racetrack president Kevin Flanery told a committee for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that his track would prefer to race it alone, and that if it has to share with Kentucky Downs, Churchill will race only Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"If we're the only track, we are willing to run the Thursdays," he said.
Churchill, with the backing of Keeneland, wants Kentucky Downs' handful of racing dates moved to August or July. Kentucky Downs has requested seven dates in September.
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Ellis Park in Henderson also races in July and August. Moving Kentucky Downs into those months would dilute the momentum Ellis has achieved in the past year with purses boosted by electronic gambling, owner Ron Geary said.
The shifting dynamics of the racing calendar reflect the impact of historical wagering, the form of electronic gambling on previously run horse races that Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park, and now Keeneland and the Red Mile have added.
Purses have gone up so much at Kentucky Downs — this year, the all-turf track awarded more than $6.6 million in just five days — that it has drawn horses from turf races at Churchill and even the opening days of Keeneland's October meet.
Attorney David Royce, speaking for Keeneland and Churchill, argued that moving the Kentucky Downs dates makes financial sense for the state, which gets more tax revenue from simulcasting at Keeneland and Churchill than from Kentucky Downs, and for the health of the overall racing calendar by bolstering August.
Kentucky Downs' success is a good thing, Royce said, "but not if tracks cannibalize each other."
Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen said his track should get to continue racing the September dates and work with Keeneland and Churchill to avoid conflicts. His track draws Kentucky-bred horses from all over the country, and then they stay and race more here, he said.
Johnsen said that if Churchill wants to not race on Thursdays, "20 dates in September is enough."
Racing Commission chairman Bob Beck urged the two sides to work out a compromise, or the commission would do it, and they "might like that less."
Each year, by statute, Kentucky tracks must request the same number of dates as the previous year. The racing commission sets the calendar in November.
On Tuesday, the race dates committee approved recommendations for Keeneland and Red Mile in Lexington, Turfway Park in Florence and Bluegrass Downs in Paducah that are substantially the same as 2015.
Besides Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park and Churchill Downs, racing dates are uncertain for Thunder Ridge, a harness track in Prestonsburg that is in limbo. Keeneland has a memorandum of understanding to buy the track and move it near Corbin, where a quarter-horse track and gambling parlor are planned.
On Tuesday, Beck asked why that deal, in the works for more than year, hasn't closed.
"Ford could have bought GM in less time," Beck said.
He asked whether owner Murray Sinclaire could attend the racing commission meeting next month to justify awarding dates to a track that costs more to regulate than it brings in in betting handle.
"We would like to invite him to the next meeting, and it would be a sound idea for him to show up," Beck said.
Thunder Ridge asked for 21 racing dates from April 13 to May 27, signaling intent to run another harness meet this year.