Thoroughbred racing returns to Indiana April 15 when Indiana Downs hosts the first of 48 cards that will comprise its 2005 race meet. The Shelbyville racetrack will conduct live racing Tuesdays through Saturdays through June 18, a change from the 2004 schedule aimed at maximizing simulcast handle.
Now in its third season of Thoroughbred racing, Indiana Downs continues to alter its racing schedule in the hope of taking advantage of the simulcast market. In 2003, the signal was offered Tuesday evening through Saturday evening each week. Last year, the decision was made to drop Tuesday evenings in favor of Sunday matinees.
Indiana Downs general manager Jon Schuster said the move was positive but didn't yield quite what management had anticipated. "We tried Sundays, and they were better than Tuesdays ever so slightly," he said.
For 2005, the switch was made from Sunday matinees to Tuesday afternoon programs, with the first post scheduled for 2:55 p.m. CST. Schuster said the change was an economic decision, and hopes the Indiana Downs signal can catch on during a time where there are a limited number of signals in the market.
"By being one of the lesser number of tracks out there, we hope to drum up interest," Schuster said. "We feel we're the right track to fit that spot. Other tracks like Tampa Bay Downs and Philadelphia Park have made a nice niche market out of it."
The move will also allow the race office to fully utilize the seven-eighths-mile turf course, which debuted in 2004. Schuster hopes to make the most of grass racing on the afternoon programs, something that has been difficult to do with mostly evening programs and no lighting for the grass course. Turf racing debuted in 2004.
"We'll be able to use it much more than last year," he said. "The course took what we gave it last year. I intend to use it a lot on Tuesdays after the first of May, weather-permitting."
A new barn has been added this spring that raises the total stall space to 508. With increased stall space, Schuster hopes for more participation by horsemen, something the track lacked in the middle of last year's 48-day meet.
"We were a little lean in the middle of the meet last year," he said. "We're hoping to improve our field sizes this year."
If the opening night card is any indication, there could be strong participation on the part of Thoroughbred horsemen. Indiana Downs has carded 12 races (nine Thoroughbred and three Quarter Horse) to kick off the meet, with seven races offering 12-horse fields. Four races on the card have drawn 10 horses each, and the night's feature, a $12,000 allowance event for fillies and mares, has attracted a field of eight.
The 5 1/2-furlong event features Down by the Sea and Free Bonus, both Indiana-breds with multiple stakes victories to their credit. First post April 15 is 6:55 p.m.