Belterra Park

Belterra Park

John C. Engelhardt

Belterra Park On Track for May 8 Opening

The former River Downs in Ohio has been rebuilt from the ground up.

Belterra Park received its meet approvals from the Ohio State Racing Commission April 29 and is on schedule to begin its 2014 meet May 8.

The racetrack, formerly known as River Downs, didn't offer a live meet on-site in 2013 because of demolition of the grandstand and clubhouse and construction of a new racing and gaming facility. The 2013 meet was held at Beulah Park near Columbus.

Pinnacle Entertainment owns Belterra Park as well as the Belterra Casino Resort in neighboring Indiana.

OSRC chairman Robert Schmitz said he visited Belterra Park recently and was impressed.

"I was very pleased with what I saw," he said. "The first thing I do is visit the (barn area) unannounced, and will continue to go unannounced. Belterra Park has excellent facilities. The VLT facility and racing end are integrated. It's the nicest one I've seen for Thoroughbred racing in Ohio for many years."

Belterra Park has about 1,050 stalls, half of them new. Some of the old barns were removed because the racing surfaces were moved from their original footprint.

Dave Basler, executive director of the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the barn area will open April 30, with training to begin May 2. He said all the stalls are accounted for this year.

"We worked together on the design and construction of the barns," Basler said. "There are a few last-minute issues, but it's a very nice facility. The old barns have been repainted and have new roofs. There also are new dorms with a total of 147 beds."

Belterra Park, which will offer about $80,000 in purses this year, will begin operating video lottery terminals May 1. It will have six months from that date to strike a deal with the Ohio HBPA on VLT revenue to purses; in the interim the 9% minimum allowed by state law will go into an escrow account.

For the most part the track will race four days a week (Thursdays through Sundays). First post time Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday is 1 p.m. EDT and 3 p.m. on Fridays. The meet ends Oct. 19.

The turf course was replanted late last year and isn't expected to be used until 2015.

Beulah Park, meanwhile, will hold its last live racing program May 3. Its dates will move to the under-construction Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course near Youngstown.

"The connection between Grove City and Beulah Park was an integral part of the community, but time has moved on," Schmitz said. "There isn't much great to say about the facilities now, but (a new track) is opening."