A panel of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has deferred action on 2014 racing dates for Churchill Downs and Kentucky Downs to give those two tracks an opportunity to work out overlapping requests for three Saturdays in September.
Also during an Oct. 7 meeting, the KHRC dates committee held off on approving the request from Ellis Park for its traditional summer meet.
In the end, the panel approved and will recommend to the full commission requests for the state's two other Thoroughbred tracks and three Standardbred operations, but wants to resolve the Churchill Downs-Kentucky Downs overlap that would occur on Sept. 6, 13, and 20. The committee will meet again before the next meeting of the full commission Oct. 22.
This year, Churchill was awarded the September dates traditionally held by Turfway Park and is scheduled to have those same dates again next year as Turfway did not apply for them. Kentucky Downs, an all-turf course in Franklin, Ky., has requested five days of racing in September, the same as this year.
But some commissioners and KHRC staff said they would like to avoid the overlap of some live racing days between Churchill Downs and Kentucky Downs that occurred this year because it burdens horsemen with horses in both locations.
Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery told the committee members that the September meet, dubbed the "homecoming meet," was successful with average daily handle of $3.8 million, more than three times the amount generated by Turfway Park when it had the same dates.
"We came out of it feeling very good," Flanery said, adding that the Louisville track plans to build on the momentum generated by the new position on the racing calendar this year.
Horsemen also benefited from the venue change for September racing, with $4,476,223 in purses paid out at Churchill for a daily average $373,019, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. TJCIS shows average daily purses of $96,883 on total purses of $1,550,134 at Turfway in September 2012.
Benefitting from revenue generated by the Instant Racing-type electronic wagering, Kentucky Downs this year had total purse distribution of $4,121,142, for a daily average of $824,228.
John Ward, KHRC executive director, said he has had discussions with Kentucky Downs management about moving that track's dates to July because it would help bolster the strength of the Kentucky racing circuit in addition to avoiding the conflict with Churchill. Ellis Park, which also offers Instant Racing but has a purse structure significantly lower than Kentucky Downs, traditionally holds summer dates and had requested a July 3 through Sept. 1.
Ward said one of the commission's goals is try to attract some divisions of stables from other jurisdictions by having a more consistent level of racing on the Kentucky circuit from April through November.
"It isn't going to be attractive for some stables to go that long without having access to some better purses," Ward said in reference to the time span between Churchill's spring and September meets.
Ward said Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen had planned to attend the dates committee meeting but had to cancel due to a death in his family.
Some members of the committee also questioned Ellis Park general manager Bob Jackson about the condition of the track surface, a high incidence of catastrophic injuries during the meet, and reports of conditions on the backside. Previous to the start of the 2013 meet, the track undertook an intensive maintenance effort to remove and inordinate amount of rock that was in track material added to the surface over the winter.
Jackson said the track surface was satisfactory once the meet began and that the horse fatalities that occurred late in the meet were likely due to the caliber of horses racing there.
Jackson said Ellis Park's owners are working on a long-range plan that would result in plant improvements over a five-year period.
With the committee agreeing to try to resolve the Churchill Downs-Kentucky Downs conflict and hold off on approval of Ellis Park dates, it will recommend the following dates for the other tracks:
Keeneland: spring meet, 15 days, April 4-25; fall meet, 17 days, Oct. 8-25.
Turfway Park: winter/spring meet, 35 days, Jan. 1-March 30; holiday meet, 16 days, Dec. 4-31.
Players Bluegrass Downs: 15 days, June 20-July 20
The Red Mile: 22 days, Aug. 7-Sept. 28
Thunder Ridge: 21 days, April 23-June 6.
The committee questioned a representative of The Red Mile about its decision to lope seven days off the number of dates raced this year. In response, the track's Julie Sorrell said The Red Mile planned to add those dates if the state's Supreme Court upholds Instant Racing, called historical racing, as being legal.
Sorrell agreed that The Red Mile would request the seven dropped days be added to its schedule on an "optional" basis if business levels determined they could be sustained.