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Racing commission sets Kentucky 2016 calendar dates

Despite a tussle over dates in September, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved the calendar for 2016 on Monday.

Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky Downs in Franklin and Ellis Park in Henderson worked out a compromise that allows all three Thoroughbred tracks a piece of the month. Ellis, which will race throughout July and August, will race Sept. 2, 4 and 5; Kentucky Downs will race Sept. 3, 8, 10, 11 and 15. Churchill Downs will race Sept. 16 to Oct. 2. Keeneland will pick up on Oct. 7.

The calendar is available at KHRC.ky.gov, under October meeting materials.

The September compromise gave all the tracks a little of what they wanted.

"I think what we got is a stronger circuit for Kentucky racing," said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack. Churchill had wanted to avoid intermingling its dates with Kentucky Downs.

"What we've been trying to do is find a way to keep horses in Kentucky, racing at our racetracks, and the best way to do that is for us not to have overlap, he said."

Kentucky Downs, which runs a limited turf-only meet, wanted more dates but didn't get them — this time.

"I think it's important that there was consensus among the tracks," said Corey Johnsen, president of Kentucky Downs. "And we can use September 2016 as a constructive learning experience, and we're hopeful we can run more dates in the future, and after this next year those opportunities might present themselves."

The track also got more days of "host track status," which confers a bigger cut of the money wagered. "We're fine with the 2016 dates and hope to get more in the future," Johnsen said.

Ellis Park owner Ron Geary said he was happy to keep Kentucky Downs out of August, which would have created a direct conflict for horses and bettors.

The racing commission also approved 21 days of racing for Thunder Ridge, the harness track in Prestonsburg. Racing commission chairman Bob Beck said there are concerns about the track because on many days, the track costs more to regulate than it takes in from bettors. Some days, there is no betting handle.

After Turfway Park, Ellis Park and Churchill Downs said that Thunder Ridge owes them each more than $100,000 in simulcasting revenue from 2015, the commission voted to make Thunder Ridge's dates contingent on the track settling those debts in the next month or satisfying the commission as to why it hasn't.

Track owner Murray Sinclaire was not at the meeting; Beck said afterward that he'd spoken with Sinclaire about the financial situation and that a deal to sell the track license to Keeneland was in play.

Keeneland wants to move the license to Corbin, where it is building a quarter horse track and gambling parlor. Neither track was able to say why the deal hasn't closed, Beck said.

In other action, the racing commission approved the installation of a new Breeders' Cup-themed instant racing game at the Red Mile gambling parlor, which is jointly operated by Keeneland. The games — 27 $1 terminals and 15 25-cent terminals — will be installed Tuesday. The races that will be used to determine the winners are not Breeders' Cup races.

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