Horses may not be able to run at River Downs in 2013 because of construction.

Horses may not be able to run at River Downs in 2013 because of construction.

Courtesy River Downs

River Downs Meet Could Move to Beulah in 2013

A decision on whether the meet stays put or transfers is expected in a few weeks.

The awarding of 2013 Thoroughbred racing dates in Ohio has stalled given the fact the meet at River Downs may have to move to Beulah Park because of construction of a new racetrack gaming facility.

The Ohio State Racing Commission Nov. 29 reluctantly took no action on racing dates because of the developments. That means schedules won't be finalized and approved until Dec. 13 at the earliest.

"I'm going to tell everybody on racing dates that we want them settled, signed, and delivered at the next meeting," OSRC chairman Robert Schmitz said. "No more delays."

Pinnacle Entertainment, which owns River Downs near Cincinnati, plans to spend in excess of $250 million to level the scenic racetrack's grandstand and build a facility with video lottery terminals and other amenities. Much of the work would be done in the spring and summer, when River Downs normally holds live racing.

Horsemen in Kentucky who race at the Ohio track earlier said they had heard training wouldn't be feasible at River Downs next year to allow more time for construction, but Ohio officials said there may not be enough room or facilities to conduct the meet on site.

OSRC member Willie Koester said there is a good possibility the meet could move to Beulah Park, which also is scheduled for demolition as part of a plan to relocate to the Youngstown area where a new racetrack gaming facility would be built by owner Penn National Gaming Inc.

Should Pinnacle find a way to set up temporary facilities, the meet could be held at River Downs. Kentucky horsemen said inquires have been made about working with nearby Turfway Park in Kentucky to serve as the stabling and training site for River Downs.

For decades Turfway and River Downs have made up an almost year-round live racing circuit in the Cincinnati metro area.

Until the River Downs situation is resolved, Beulah Park dates for 2013 can't be awarded. Also, management and the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association still have no two-party agreement on dates.

Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler said Beulah Park requested 88 dates, "significantly below" the statutory minimum of 114. Beulah Park traditionally has exceeded the minimum, but business has slipped considerably in recent years.

"We put forth a plan to allow them to go below 114 but higher than 88," Basler said. "It's somewhat tied to the situation at River Downs."

River Downs in recent years has offered 90 days of racing, five days a week, from May through early September. Whether that same number would be offered at Beulah Park should it host the meet remains to be seen.

Beulah Park general manager Jim McKinney said the track is "making progress everyday" on deal for a 2013 meet. As it stands now, Beulah Park probably will offer some racing in 2014 because the new facility near Youngstown won't be ready.

If the River Downs meet moves, there will be no turf racing in Ohio next year because it's the only track in the state with a grass course. Also, stables that ship horses from Kentucky for the easier competition will have to make other plans.

Pinnacle officials did not attend the Nov. 29 meeting but have discussed their plans on earnings teleconferences. They have indicated Thoroughbred racing will be part of the entertainment and gambling offerings at the new facility.

The Ohio HBPA does have an agreement with Thistledown near Cleveland for 122 dates but it hasn't been signed because the incoming general manager has not yet been licensed by the OSRC. David Ellsworth, the interim general manager for track owners Caesars Entertainment and Rock Gaming, indicated it's a formality.

"My position is we do have an agreed upon number of days," Ellsworth said. "We have been discussing a slight shift in the calendar by starting a little bit earlier (than usual)."

Thistledown opened May 4 this year and ended its meet Nov. 17.