by James Platz
Indiana Downs opened its second Thoroughbred meet April 16 with backstretch upgrades and more markets for its signal.
The Shelbyville racetrack will conduct 48 days of racing, up from 30 days last year. An extended schedule is just one of many changes in 2004.
According to general manager Jon Schuster, Indiana Downs invested more than $500,000 to update areas of the track, most of which will go unnoticed by patrons. The number of tack rooms for horsemen stabled on the grounds was doubled, and 20 additional dorm rooms were added. In the 120-stall receiving barn, rubber matting was added.
Another change is the number of outlets carrying the signal. Last year, 127 outlets signed on, but this year, the total is 181. The signal will be sent into new markets including the Connecticut OTB system, Catskill OTB, Evangeline Downs, Canterbury Park, Gulfstream Park, Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, Remington Park and its off-track sites, Vernon Downs, and Yonkers Raceway.
Indiana Downs will offer matinees on Sundays, a move targeted at developing fans in the Shelby County area. Schuster said Sunday matinees won't generate the same handle as an evening program, but could help in building the patron base.
The April 16 card generated $453,387 in total handle, $110,220 of which was wagered on track. The April 17 program yielded $407,558 in total handle, with $82,844 wagered on track. Warm weather attracted good crowds all three days.
"Opening weekend was outstanding," Schuster said. "I couldn't be any happier. We had nice, competitive, full fields. I'm just thrilled with it."
Looking ahead, work is under way on the seven-eighths-mile turf course. The rail is nearly installed, and sprinklers will be reset and started. While the course is still dormant, Schuster is optimistic based on how well the surface looked last fall. He believes it will enhance the racing program.
"I think it will bring a higher quality horse to this facility," he said. "It could also help enhance the main course program as well."
The first grass race is carded for May 14. On the down side, Indiana Downs purses have been cut, a direct result of increased racing dates. In 2003, the track offered daily average purses in the range of $100,000. This year, the figures is closer to $85,000.