Anne M. Eberhardt

Kentucky Ponders Sire-Based Purses, Bonuses

Sub-committee to consider purse opportunities for horses sired by in-state stallions.

The Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund Advisory Committee Sept. 5 approved formation of a subcommittee to explore possible purse bonuses, or races, for horses sired by Kentucky-based stallions.

The idea emerged during a brain-storming session among members of the committee, representatives of racetracks, and horsemen. The subcommittee was formed to explore ideas about how such a program might work; any ideas are in the initial stages of development.

Noting that revenue from historical race wagering, or Instant Racing, is going to help increase available money in the KTDF, Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen suggested considering options of adding money for races won by foals of Kentucky-based sires. In throwing out ideas, Johnsen said it could involve adding funds to graded stakes or offering specific races, possibly races for 2-year-olds.

Johnsen was appointed chairman of the committee, which will have representation from racetracks and horsemen. He plans to bring in representatives of some of the state's leading stud farms and anticipates a first meeting after this year's Keeneland September yearling sale concludes.

With states like Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia enhancing purses with money from alternative gaming, Johnsen said Kentucky has to take advantage of its assets. One of those assets would be tying Kentucky races to the state's world-class stallions.

Johnsen said perhaps with some creative thinking between racetracks, horsemen, the KTDF, and possible sponsorships from the horse farms that stand the stallions, Kentucky could offer horsemen additional attractive races or bonuses.

"Let's look at our assets and use those assets," said Johnsenwho noted many gaming states are committing money to claiming raceswhich could allow Kentucky opportunities in maiden special weight and allowance races, and stakes. Johnsen said Kentucky's assets include top horsemen, stallions, farms, and tracks.

KTDF Advisory Committee chairman J. David Richardson, who also will serve on the subcommittee, said the idea is worth exploring.

During the meeting, Johnsen said Kentucky Downs hopes to double the size of its current Instant Racing operation that offers 390 machines. Instant Racing machines look like video lottery terminals but base payouts on pari-mutuel wagering and determine winners on previously run horse races. After the meeting Johnsen said the track would like to complete that expansion in 2015.

Ellis Park also offers Instant Racing, and the track has enjoyed four straight record months of handle on the machines. Keeneland plans to add the machines, though the track said it will focus its attention on next year's Breeders' Cup World Championships before adding Instant Racing.

Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery said track is still considering adding the machines but is taking a cautious approach in the Louisville market, which features competition from nearby Indiana riverboats, and while ongoing litigation reaches a conclusion.

In the wide-ranging brainstorming session, Flanery said he would like a plan to avoid overlapping race days. Churchill begins its September meet Sept. 5, while Kentucky Downs begins five September cards Sept. 6. Johnsen said the track near the Tennessee border will request more September dates for next season.

Track representatives from Churchill, Turfway Park, and Ellis Park said they all have cut race days in recent years and now are looking at the optimum number of races per racing day. Flanery said the days of race cards four or five days a week with 10 or 11 races on each program are likely over.

The challenge, they noted, is to avoid having too many races, and the small fields that follow without cutting the schedule to the point that horsemen no longer have enough reason to keep their stables in Kentucky and leave for other states.