Large fields and an artificial racing surface are credited for a 17% increase in all-sources handle for the first three weeks of the Turfway Park meet.
Through Dec. 18, on-track handle was about even with last year, but out-of-state handle on Turfway races was up 21% from the 2004 holiday meet, track president Bob Elliston said. However, during a recent Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association meeting, it was noted that in-state handle on Turfway races remains soft.
Turfway first used the Polytrack surface for its late summer/early fall meet, during which all-sources handle was down 11.8% from the comparable meet in 2002. The track attributed the decline to its decision not to send its signal to secondary pari-mutuel operations that had taken the signal in 2004.
For the current meet, the gains are attributed to bettors' comfort in handicapping races run on Polytrack. "I think folks like wagering on Polytrack," Elliston said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't just watching in September, but now they're comfortable with it, and that's showing in our numbers."
The surface has played very fair; on a typical program horses have won on the lead, from just off the pace, from the middle of the pack, or from last heading into the far turn.
Field size thus far has averaged 10.55 starters per race for 15 programs, up from 10.01 for 16 programs last year. Turfway canceled its Dec. 8 program because of an impending snowstorm.
When the snow fell, Elliston said the track crew blew off five inches and worked an inch into the surface, which responded well. Morning temperatures have been in the teens, but there have been no problems with training, he said.
With heavy rain early in the meet and temperatures in the 20s and 30s for most of December, Elliston speculated more days could have been lost had the dirt surface still been in place. Other regional tracks such as Beulah Park and Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort lost multiple programs in December because of weather and track conditions.
Purses for the holiday meet have averaged $140,745 a day, up from $135,360 for the same period in 2004. Purse supplements from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund for maiden special weight, allowance, and stakes events are up $184,000 this year from last year.