September racing will move to Churchill Downs in 2013.

September racing will move to Churchill Downs in 2013.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Kentucky Approves Major Schedule Changes

Churchill Downs will take over September race dates. February will be nearly dark.

The Kentucky racing schedule in 2013 will feature the biggest changes in years as September racing will move to Churchill Downs and February likely will be virtually dark.

On Oct. 23 the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved the schedule recommended by its racing dates committee, amended only to add two extra race days in February. The schedule shifts September racing dates from Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky to Churchill in Louisville. It did add a second weekend of February racing at Turfway, and after some contentious moments, ultimately approved four other optional dates in that month.

Churchill Downs racetrack President Kevin Flannery sees opportunity for the September race dates, which, counting stakes races, are expected to approach the $300,000 range.

"I believe this will become a permanent fixture," said Flanery, who anticipates at least two of the dates being night racing cards, which have proved popular in Louisville. Flanery said the track will work to avoid conflicts with Friday night high school football and try to build events that may attract crossover fans from University of Louisville football games.

The September dates will include stakes races and Flanery said the track would consider a return of Kentucky Cup day, or something similar. Turfway Park discontinued Kentucky Cup day this year. But Flanery said Churchill will have to see the level of horses available, the popularity of the signal, and how the meet fits in with New York Racing Association's Saratoga Race Course, which wraps up on Labor Day; and Keeneland, which offers October racing in Kentucky.

The committee had recommended a schedule that would have had Turfway racing just the first Friday and Saturday of February. But at the Oct. 23 meeting, Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association representatives requested Turfway offer racing dates every weekend in February. Turfway Director of Operations Chip Bach said the track could add one additional weekend but would lose approximately $28,000 if it added the other four racing dates.

At one point KHRC Chairman Bob Beck suggested the horsemen were being "obstructionist," if they didn't approve the new plan, which included the second weekend of February. Horsemen can block tracks' ability to simulcast their races if the tracks and horsemen do not reach an agreement on dates. At that point, Beck called for a vote and the dates were approved unanimously.

Kentucky HBPA President Rick Hiles suggested that before Beck made his comments, he was talking with Bach to add the other four weekend dates of February as optional dates. Hiles said the horsemen had been reasonable in working to reshape the schedule and that he was only concerned about the jobs of horsemen, pari-mutuel tellers, and other track workers at Turfway that could be lost in February.

After an executive session discussing unrelated legal matters, Bach returned for the conclusion of the meeting and suggested the plan to add four optional racing dates on the final two weekends of February. Kentucky HBPA Executive Director Marty Maline told the KHRC that the horsemen would approve such a plan. The KHRC then revised its racing dates to include those four optional dates.

The calendar also includes optional dates for Turfway in March and Churchill in September. Currently Churchill is scheduled to race Friday through Sunday in September but could add Thursday dates if the meet is going well. Commissioner Ned Bonnie encouraged the tracks to make a decision on any optional dates as early as possible to promote the dates to horsemen and fans.

Bach said the new schedule will allow Turfway to increase its daily purses to $140,000 for overnights and about $170,000 when stakes races are included.

"The changes to Turfway Park's 2013 racing schedule make it possible for us to support a purse structure befitting Kentucky racing.  It was a difficult exercise but the outcome reflects our continued commitment to horsemen, horseplayers, and the Kentucky circuit while we continue to work toward an even playing field," Bach said. "With our new schedule, we project that Turfway's purses will nearly double while providing an active 2013 stakes schedule, including our centerpiece, the Spiral Stakes (gr. II) in March.  We deeply appreciate our employees, fans, horsemen, and community leaders for their continued support and enthusiasm for Northern Kentucky's contribution to the commonwealth's signature industry."

The approved dates follow:

Churchill Downs: 72 days (two in April, 18 in May, 18 in June, 12 in September, 22 in November), plus four optional days in September when live racing can be added if business levels permit.

Ellis Park: 29 days (13 in July, 14 in August, two in September)

Keeneland: 33 days (16 in April, 17 in October)

Kentucky Downs: 5 days, all in September

Turfway Park: 47 days (13 in January, four in February, 11 in March, 19 in December), with four optional days in both February and March when live racing can be added if business levels permit.

In other news at the Oct. 23 meeting:

Kentucky Equine Medical Director Mary Scollay said a panel will be formed to review any catastrophic breakdowns in the state beginning with the upcoming Churchill fall meeting.

Scollay also noted that Chief Racing Veterinarian Bryce Peckham would be stepping down from his position in November. He will be replaced by current assistant Will Farmer. Peckham arrived on an interim basis in October 2008 and was named chief vet in February 2009.

Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen presented a check for $92,900 to the Kentucky Breeders' Incentive Fund. Johnsen said the money was generated from wagering on Instant Racing at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park from January through September.

"It might seem like a small amount but it's symbolic of what we can generate when we work together toward the future," Johnsen said. "Our business is growing."