The year 2008 probably will bring some experimentation to Turfway Park, which has asked the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority for permission to switch from evening to daytime racing on Wednesdays and Thursdays during its three-month winter/spring meet.
If approved Dec. 17 by the KHRA--there doesn’t appear to be any opposition--post time on Wednesdays and Thursdays would be 1:10 p.m. EDT effective Jan. 3. Post time on Fridays would remain 5:30 p.m. Turfway already races at 1:10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
“We asked the authority (if we could change the post time),” Turfway president Bob Elliston said. “We’ve contemplated that for some time and never pulled the trigger. We decided to give it a whirl and see what happens.”
Elliston said the reasoning behind the request is the belief that on-track handle won’t suffer. Wednesday and Thursday nights from January-March usually aren’t big draws, and there are more simulcast dollars available in the afternoon, he said.
The Turfway signal would go up against tracks such as Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, and Oaklawn Park, but Elliston said track officials want to take a shot to see if simulcast handle improves. If not, evening racing could return at some point, he said.
“We always have the latitude, in concert with the horsemen, to say, ‘It didn’t work. Let’s go back,’ ” Elliston said.
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, couldn't be reached for comment, but Elliston said horsemen approve of the experiment. The Kentucky HBPA a few years back supported the change from a 7 p.m. post time to 5:30 p.m.
Another reason for the experiment is weather. Temperatures are more consistent in the afternoon, Elliston said, while evenings can be frigid.
There are no plans to tinker with Friday night racing, which has developed into a pretty good draw with $1 beer and hot dogs, contests, concerts, and other events. Elliston said on Friday night, Dec. 7, party groups alone accounted for 2,000 patrons.
Night racing in September and December allows the track to cultivate fans, he said.
“Friday nights, we do too good (to change the post time),” Elliston said. “Our handle continues to grow. Wednesday and Thursday nights (in the winter), however, aren’t creating trial opportunities for new fans.
“We want to generate the most money we can as well (promote) live racing. Our crowds are better on Wednesday and Thursday nights in September. The live product is still very important to us.”
The Turfway winter/spring meet begins with an afternoon card Tuesday, Jan. 1. Wednesday, Jan. 2, is a dark day. The meet runs through early April.