After struggling to fill fields early in the meet, Turfway Park bounced back in the final weeks of its fall meeting but could not prevent a significant drop in handle.
Turfway's all-sources handle was down 24.6% to $20,486,443 and on-track handle dipped 26.3% to $1,208,731. This year's fall meeting did not offer the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions, which featured five stakes races last year. All-sources handle on this year's single comparable Saturday was down 57.7% and 75.2% on-track at the Northern Kentucky track.
As they have for many years, Kentucky Downs ran its brief turf meet during the Turfway meet. For the first time, Kentucky Downs this year offered purses inflated by revenue from Instant Racing, negatively affecting Turfway's field size, which averaged 7.1 during the two weeks of the Kentucky Downs meet. Daily average all-sources handle dropped 27.2% compared to that two-week period last year and daily average on-track handle dropped 22.7%.
During the latter half of the meet, however, field size rebounded, averaging 8.3 the third week and 9.3 the fourth week. Handle rebounded as well. Comparing the final two weeks of the 2012 meet to the last two weeks of the 2011 fall meet, again accounting for the Kentucky Cup, daily average all-sources handle fell 11.8% but daily average on-track handle rose, increasing by 1% the third week and by 2.1% the fourth week.
Overall, field size averaged 8.0 per race for the meet. While that average is down from last fall’s 8.4 per race, it aligned with last year's national average of 8.0. (National field size figures are released annually by Equibase, the industry database; figures for 2012 are not yet available.)
Due to short entries, Turfway presented 35 races the first week of the 2012 fall meet, compared to 40 during last year's first week. Increased entries the second two weeks allowed the track to recoup two of the five lost races. Overall the track presented 157 races in 2012 compared with 162 in 2011, the latter including the 12-race Kentucky Cup card.
Purses totaled $2,230,741 for the 2011 fall meet, compared to $1,549,985 for the comparable period in 2012, with the 2011 Kentucky Cup card again having a significant impact. Comparing the two meets without the two relevant Saturdays represented by Kentucky Cup day, purses totaled $1,446,906 for 2011 vs. $1,427,605 for 2012, a decrease of just 1.3% for the 15 days.
"We expected some change with the new impact of Instant Racing at Kentucky Downs, and next year we’ll make adjustments to further offset that impact," said Turfway's director of operations Chip Bach. "The rebound the final two weeks tells us we remain viable as a venue for horsemen while we continue to work toward a level playing field.
"What is not visible in raw numbers is the strong turnout we saw for our events, most of them geared to bring new customers to the track," Bach continued. "Fan Appreciation Day, a joint venture with the horsemen, drew a big crowd of first-timers and casual fans on opening weekend. The day focused on families and included handicapping sessions for novices. We saw the same with the Craft Beer Festival the following weekend. Our Dollar Fridays continue to bring in a young crowd. Again, through contests and games, we work specifically on teaching them how to play. Our location gives us a unique opportunity to reach fans not only in Northern Kentucky but in Greater Cincinnati as well."
On the track, Victor Lebron won his fifth Turfway riding title and his third in a row, finishing the 16-day meet with 29 wins from 86 mounts. Lebron’s meet was highlighted by a six-win day on Sept. 22, one short of the record set by Rafael Bejarano in 2004.
Mike Maker again landed atop the trainer standings with 11 wins from 19 starters. Maker has 11 training titles at Turfway, tying him with D. Wayne Lukas for second-most titles in Turfway history. Bernie Flint holds the record with 20 titles, most recently a tie for the 2004 holiday meet.
The meet’s leading owner was the family partnership of Billy, Donna, and Justin Hays, who posted seven wins from 38 starts. The title was the third in a row for the Hayses, who have five titles since they began campaigning as a family during the winter-spring meet of 2010.
Live racing returns to Turfway on Nov. 29, the start of the holiday meet.