As reported in late November, River Downs owner Pinnacle Entertainment expects the Cincinnati-area track to be a construction site for much of next year. The company plans to demolish existing structures and build a facility to accommodate racing, video lottery terminals, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
The options for live racing are using temporary facilities during construction or moving the meet to Beulah Park near Columbus. River Downs normally races from late April through Labor Day when Beulah Park is dark.
River Downs had not submitted a request for dates as of the morning of Dec. 12. The Ohio State Racing Commission is scheduled to meet Dec. 13 to award 2013 racing dates for seven tracks, though it did reserve the right to hold another meeting later in the month should plans not be finalized.
"We are in discussions with River Downs regarding potentially running the meet at Beulah Park," Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for Beulah Park owner Penn National Gaming Inc., said Dec. 12. "There are a lot of logistical and financial issues to work out, but we're making progress.
"The racing commission and horsemen have been advised of where we're at (on an agreement). We'll provide an update (Dec. 12) but I don't think we'll have a final decision then. We are working in good faith with River Downs."
Beulah Park requested 88 live Thoroughbred racing days for next year: Jan. 7-May 4 and Nov. 18-Dec. 12. The track usually begins its fall meet in early October.
In late November Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Dave Basler said Beulah Park's request is "significantly below" the statutory minimum of 114 racing dates. Beulah Park traditionally has exceeded the minimum, but business has slipped considerably in recent years.
Basler said the Ohio HBPA offered to approve a figure higher than 88 but lower than 114, and also noted the schedule depends on what happens with the River Downs dates.
River Downs in recent years has offered about 90 days of racing. Given the requested late start for the Beulah Park fall meet, there is a window for Pinnacle to apply for late summer and fall dates, but that would hinge on construction schedules.
Horsemen said Pinnacle's construction plans involve moving the racing surfaces more toward the barn area. If that's the case, live racing couldn't be held even if training and stabling were offered off site.
River Downs had discussions earlier with Turfway Park, located about 20 minutes away in neighboring Kentucky, concerning rental of its barn area. Turfway general manager Chip Bach said Dec. 12 there haven't been follow-up talks.
PNGI, in order to take advantage of VLTs in a new market, plans to move the Beulah Park license to a racetrack gaming facility that will be built west of Youngstown in northeastern Ohio. Plans call for live racing to begin sometime in 2014, meaning Beulah Park could end up holding live racing through early that year.