By Ron Mitchell and Tom LaMarra
Churchill Downs could apply for live racing dates in September 2013, opening the door to what could be controversial discussions over the future makeup of the Kentucky Thoroughbred racing circuit.
The September dates have long been held by Turfway Park, which has struggled to fill races given a purse structure that lags behind the other tracks in the state. The northern Kentucky track also races from December through March.
Turfway has applied for its customary September dates in 2013. But talk a few years ago about Churchill racing in September has escalated to the point of a possible application for the dates.
Turfway interim general manager Lee Dillard couldn't be reached for comment Sept. 12. The track is 90% owned by Caesars Entertainment and Rock Gaming, with 10% owned by Keeneland.
"We have been asked by some horsemen and members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to consider possible September racing dates at Churchill Downs," said John Asher, Churchill vice president of communications. "As a result, we have had some internal discussions on that prospect and are seriously considering how this could benefit Kentucky's horse industry. We look forward to continued discussions with all parties involved.
"We have been asked to submit our 2013 dates application earlier than the Oct. 1 deadline without any change from the 2012 footprint. But we have been assured that discussions regarding September dates will continue until next year's racing dates are awarded in late October."
Requests for racing dates must be submitted by Oct. 1, though the KHRC said applications already have been received. Reports that Churchill has September in its 2013 application couldn't be immediately confirmed.
"I personally think it would be a good idea (for Churchill to take Turfway's September dates)," said David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. "It doesn't look like Kentucky horsemen are supporting Turfway anyway. They are running in Indiana, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia."
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, couldn't be reached for comment. The Kentucky HBPA is the sole contract negotiator for meets at Turfway; it shares that responsibility with the KTA for meets at Churchill.