Anne M. Eberhardt

Average Daily Handle Down 4% at Turfway Meet

Field size was up by more than a horse per race, average purses up almost 20%.

Though total pari-mutuel handle during the recent winter/spring meet at Turfway Park fell almost 30% from the same meet in 2012, average daily handle was down 4% because of 11 fewer live racing days.

According to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission statistics, total handle during the three-month Turfway meet was $56.88 million, down 29.28% from $80.44 million in 2012. The Northern Kentucky track raced only 31 days during this year's meet compared with 42 last year. (One program in April 2012 isn't included in the comparisons.)

Average daily handle was $1.83 million, down 4.18% from $1.91 million for the 2012 winter/spring meet. Average daily wagering on 11 programs in March, however, increased 9.19% to $1.90 million this year versus $1.74 million last year.

The Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) program March 23 produced total handle of $6.73 million, up about $1.1 million from the same program in 2012. The meet concluded March 31.

KHRC figures show a February-to-February average daily handle decrease of 4.04% ($1.98 million to $1.90 million). The biggest hit came in January, when an average of $1.74 million was bet versus an average of $1.99 million in January 2012.

The average number of horses per race increased by more than one horse, to 9.26 this year versus 8.08 last year, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. Though total purses fell by more than $1 million, the 2013 average of $154,761 was up 19.26% from $129,764 in 2012, according to TJCIS.

Turfway raced fewer dates this winter in an effort to increase average daily purses and field size at the urging of the KHRC. Track officials have said they could tweak the winter/spring schedule for 2014 based on the results of this year's shorter meet.

At the April 9 KHRC meeting, Turfway general manager Chip Bach said the track did its best to limit the impact of cutbacks in the number of racing days this year when compared with previous meets, and is reviewing the recent meet in planning for next year.

"When you change things around a lot and you race only a few days a week, you lose people on TV sets," Bach said. "So we have a lot of work to do and we are going back to the table. We're still trying to compare apples to apples. We're analyzing all our inputs right now. Now we know what to expect (in order) to improve our brand and to improve the brand of Kentucky racing.

Bach said Turfway has taken some steps to enhance the experiences of horsemen who race at the track, including setting up an owners' lounge.

"We've implemented some small things that are hopefully impactful. We have created an owners' lounge and a champagne toast for every race, whether it is a $5,000 race or a $550,000 race," Bach said. "I will tell you the quality of the champagne is different between the two races. Every one of the owners and connections really appreciated this. So we're going to take that and go forward."

The Turfway meet was difficult for stables based at the track, some of which went elsewhere, said Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

"Our horsemen suffered through that the best they could," Maline said. "A lot of horsemen have left and continue to leave. We lost a lot of horsemen because of that. We hope they will increase the number of days for next year. Two days a week just doesn't work.

"The out-of-state simulcasting was reduced significantly because there are so many tracks out there racing four, five, and six days a week. (Bettors) center on those and forget about us because we are racing only two days a week."

Bach also heaped praise on management at Churchill Downs for including the Spiral and Fathead Bourbonette Oaks (gr. III) in its point systems for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).

"It is incredibly important to both our Bourbonette and our Spiral Stakes," Bach said. "That was one best and most contentious Spiral Stakes fields we've had in a long, long  time. And that is a direct result of Churchill looking after one of their allied Kentucky tracks in making sure that we're part of the mix."

Ron Mitchell contributed to this story