Most Kentucky horsemen, especially those who ship stock from Lexington and Louisville, probably approve of an earlier weekday post time at Turfway Park. But the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has sent a letter to management saying it should be involved in such decisions, in particular those that could impact handle and purses.
Turfway issued a press release Saturday that said first post time on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays would change from 6 p.m. to 4:10 p.m. (EST) effective Feb. 28. The Northern Kentucky track switched to a 6 p.m. start in January of this year after it had a first post of 5:30 p.m. the previous winter. The earlier post times were designed to maximize simulcasting revenue and assist horsemen who have to ship during the winter months.
"We think (the 4:10 post time) better positions us in the national simulcasting market," said Robert Forbeck, Turfway's director of communications and marketing. "Our bigger players are out here in the afternoon, and once the Gulfstream Park card ends, they're gone. They don't stay for the live racing."
Forbeck said Wednesday and Thursday evenings have been very slow on track, but he's somewhat concerned about losing live trade on Friday evenings. "It's an experiment," he said. "If it works, great. If not, it's only for 17 days through the end of the meet."
In a Feb. 20 letter to Turfway president Bob Elliston, Kentucky HBPA executive director Marty Maline said horsemen weren't notified of the plan during the last regular meeting between horsemen and management. Maline said that while horsemen may approve of the change in post time "for the sake of convenience, they are equally concerned with how the time change may affect wagering at other locations."
Before the post time was changed to 5:30 p.m. from 7 p.m., Maline said Turfway polled simulcasting outlets, and the Kentucky HBPA surveyed patrons at the Churchill Downs Sports Spectrum, a Louisville simulcasting facility. Maline said horsemen aren't sure what impact a 4:10 p.m. first post will have on handle. Less than 10% of handle on live racing at Turfway is generated on track.
Forbeck said horsemen were consulted on the issue, and that the switch in post time was in the works for about two weeks before it was announced.
The post-time change will affect the Lexington market, where Keeneland, a one-third owner of Turfway, controls all Thoroughbred simulcasting. With a 4:10 p.m. post time in March, the end of Turfway's programs will dovetail with those of the California tracks. Mutuel clerks have been notified there will be no need for two shifts.
The Lexington market is void of nighttime Thoroughbred simulcasting except when Turfway races at 7 p.m. on weeknights during September, early October, and December. Forbeck indicated Turfway probably would maintain a 7 p.m. post time at least for the fall meet.
On a national level, handle at tracks such as Charles Town Races, Penn National, Mountaineer Park, and Sam Houston Race Park figures to benefit with Turfway out of the mid- to late-evening simulcasting mix on weeknights.