The strife facing the Kentucky racing circuit was further underscored Thursday when Turfway Park announced it would cut its overnight purses 25 percent effective Saturday.
The track's minimum purse will drop from $6,000 to $4,500 with the minimum maiden special weight purse falling off from $22,000 to $19,600.
The minimum entry-level allowance will drop from $24,000 to $21,400. The maiden special and allowance changes reflect a 25 percent cut in the track's contribution to the purse, while supplements from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund are unchanged.
This recent round of cuts was sparked by an overpayment resulting from not having to cancel any race cards amid this mild winter, according to track president Bob Elliston, as well as an overall decline in handle.
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While the stakes schedule will not be affected, Elliston said more cuts are likely in September and December.
"What's happened is we have very little wiggle room now. When we don't cancel two race days that we plan for, that $250,000 puts a crimp on us pretty significantly," Elliston said Thursday. "We just don't have that much latitude with our purses relative to the number of days we race and our wagering revenue. All of our creativity and flexibility has really been removed."
Adding to the sting for Turfway is that its cuts came one day after the New York Racing Association and Florida's Gulfstream Park — both of which have their purses supplemented by expanded gambling — announced significant increases to their racing programs.
Stakes purses during the Belmont Park spring meet will increase 26.6 percent to $9.05 million in 2012. Stakes purses during the Saratoga meet will increase about 27 percent to $13.35 million this year.
Gulfstream Park will raise its purses 15 percent through the remainder of its meet. Oaklawn Park, which is also supplemented by expanded gambling, said last week its overnight purses will be increased by $100,000 per week through the end of the meet.
With the Senate rejecting a proposed constitutional amendment last week that could have led to casino gambling in Kentucky, tracks in the Bluegrass are facing a daunting battle to persuade horsemen to support their product.
"It's a difficult situation as has been detailed over many years that the Kentucky circuit is losing ground to other racing circuits like New York and Florida," Elliston said. "We've tried to be innovative with drawing new fans to our product ... and our quality of our racing in terms of our safety record is impeccable.
"But at the end of the day, the racetracks are marketplaces and the money that horsemen run for truly drive quality and quantity."
Churchill Downs, whose spring meet dates go head-to-head with Belmont, previously announced its 2012 spring meet will feature total stakes purses of $7.275 million, down from last year's total of $7.325 million.
"Some quick math should convince anyone that $620,000 in daily purses at Belmont and nearly $1 million per day at Saratoga will take a lot of horses out of barns and away from competition at Kentucky tracks," Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said in a statement Wednesday.
The bright spot for Turfway's meet should be its running of the Grade III, $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes on March 24 -—the race that produced 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
"Our nominations were up 27 percent over last year for the Spiral," Elliston said. "You just persevere, that's all you can do."