The Dec. 18 Prairie Bayou Stakes at Turfway Park says a couple of things about the state of Kentucky racing: Purses aren’t up to par, and $50,000 can still buy you a pretty good field at a time of the year when many stables have headed south for better weather and more money.
The 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds and up attracted a field of 12 with two also-eligibles. Two are graded-stakes winners, and five others have competed in graded company during their careers.
Thomas and Jack Conway’s Stately Victor, winner of this year’s Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) at Keeneland and Ontario Derby at Woodbine, has done his best running on synthetic surfaces. The 3-year-old Ghostzapper colt will try Turfway’s Polytrack for the first time in the Prairie Bayou; a solid third-place finish in the grade II Fayette Stakes at Keeneland two starts back could make him the favorite.
Bad Cats Racing and Laura Bealmear’s Stream Cat, winner of the 2009 Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III) on the synthetic surface at Santa Anita Park, will make only his second start of 2010 in the Prairie Bayou. The 7-year-old Black Minnaloushe gelding finished seventh of nine in a Churchill Downs allowance test in his Nov. 7 return to racing.
Judy Miller and R-Cher Family Farms’ Timeless Fashion never has won a graded stakes but he has won five stakes, three of them at Turfway, including last year’s Prairie Bayou. He has five wins in nine starts at Turfway, and finished off the board only once—a fourth-place finish in the 2009 Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II), the winner of which, Furthest Land, returned to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) on a synthetic surface that year.
Timeless Fashion, a 6-year-old Sky Classic gelding, figures to vie for favoritism given his local record and ability to land prime position early in the race.
The 10-race Saturday card includes a $22,000 entry-level allowance race and a $20,000 maiden special weight event. Of the other seven races, none carry a purse higher than $9,000, something Turfway and horsemen have had to deal with given static or declining pari-mutuel handle and no revenue from alternative gaming.
There has been no lack of interest at the entry box, however. Most races have had also-eligible lists and excluded horses, and field size through the first eight days of the December meet has averaged about 10.4 horses per race, up from the 2009 figure.
"Can you imagine what it would be if we had the purses to compete?" Turfway president Bob Elliston said.
Turfway cut back to four days of racing for this year’s holiday meet in an effort to boost field size and maintain the weekly stakes schedule. Purses for the meet are projected to average about $110,000 a day.
The $50,000 Prairie Bayou offers more evidence of the purse disparity in Kentucky’s year-round racing circuit. During the Churchill Downs fall meet at which purses were increased twice, maiden special weight events went for $48,000-$57,000.
The Kentucky horse industry is awaiting a judge’s ruling on the legality of “historical racing” regulations approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. If approved, historical racing, called Instant Racing in Arkansas, could allow a track like Turfway to increase purses at least 50% based upon estimates.