Kentucky's racing calendar is hung up on September, again.
Two years ago, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission broke with tradition and awarded the month to Churchill Downs rather than Turfway Park, where purses had dwindled.
Last year, Kentucky Downs in Franklin asked for more dates and "host track" status, which would mean a bigger share of betting revenue. But ultimately the commission kept most of the dates with Churchill Downs in Louisville.
This year, Kentucky Downs again requested host track status on several dates and is asking for two more days of racing in September than the five it had this year.
Churchill Downs wants September all to itself.
The tracks laid out their requests before the racing dates committee of the racing commission on Tuesday. The committee approved requests for Keeneland, including three dates in late October — one for a day of "Kentucky" racing and two for the Breeders' Cup Championships.
Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky, which likely would race for at least four more days in the winter/spring meet, and The Red Mile also will have their requests forwarded without issue to the full racing commission.
The Red Mile, a Lexington harness racetrack, asked for at least eight more days and possibly 12 because they anticipate increased revenue from instant racing will boost purses. The instant racing casino is scheduled to open in July.
The other tracks all have to come back in two weeks with either a plan or more data. Two harness tracks — Players Bluegrass Downs in Paducah and Thunder Ridge in Prestonsburg — were asked to explain how they stay open with so little wagering. It actually costs more to regulate them than is bet live, the commission said.
Thunder Ridge requested 21 racing dates even though Keeneland has a tentative agreement to buy the track and move it to the Corbin/London area and turn it into a quarter horse racing track with instant racing. Neither Thunder Ridge or Bluegrass Downs apparently has a contract with harness horsemen, as required.
Churchill, Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park — affected peripherally by the September crunch — were asked to seek a compromise before Oct. 14, when the committee will meet again.
"It is certainly our goal to try to have the tracks reach a consensus on race dates that is best for the industry," said Robert Beck, chairman of the racing commission. "I hope we don't end up having to make a decision. I hope that the tracks end up coming up with a proposal that's acceptable to us and that we can help with."
The racing commission, which is expected to meet Oct. 21, must award dates by Nov. 1.
Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen made the case that his track, which put in instant racing two years ago, has generated enough tax revenue, purse money and community goodwill to earn more racing dates.
Churchill Downs racetrack president Kevin Flanery said Churchill's request for 12 days in September — three weeks of four days each — is contingent upon being the only track racing during that month.
"We obviously have issues with horse population and making sure everybody can fill the fields," he said. At the recently ended September meet, Churchill Downs reported wagering revenue that was down significantly from the previous year, according to the racing commission. Bettors around the country have been boycotting Churchill since spring to protest higher take-out rates.