Turfway Park

Turfway Park

Anne M. Eberhardt

Turfway Trims Purses to Maintain Stakes Slate

Turfway Park will trim overnight purses but maintain a stakes schedule.

Faced with making a decision brought about by the battering of the Kentucky horse racing industry, Turfway Park has opted to cut some overnight purses in order to maintain a weekly stakes schedule for its holiday and winter/spring meets.

The holiday meet, with racing four days a week instead of the usual five, begins Dec. 2 and runs through Dec. 31. The winter/spring meet kicks off Jan. 1 and ends April 3.

The customary stakes, all worth $50,000, are scheduled for three Saturdays and a Sunday in December. The purses will come from “association funds,” meaning they are eligible for black type.

In exchange, overnight purses will be trimmed. Maiden special weight events will go for $20,000 instead of $21,000, and open $5,000 claimers will run for $7,000 instead of $8,000, according to the condition book.

“It’s important to have a stakes schedule,” Turfway president Bob Elliston said Nov. 16. “We talked to the racing secretary and the horsemen and reinstituted the stakes program. It caused us to reduce some overnight purses. We think it’s a prudent course of action.”

Elliston said that after the Northern Kentucky track scrapped the Kentucky Cup Day of Championships for this September and ran only one stakes—a grade III Breeders’ Cup prep—it didn’t want to continue eliminating stakes to merely maintain, rather than increase, purses. He said maintaining stakes for four months is a positive given the circumstances.

Kentucky tracks continue pushing for expanded gambling to provide supplemental revenue for purses and operations. In the meantime, with pari-mutuel handle stagnant or declining, it has become a matter of finding ways to at least hold the line.

“If you’re standing still you’re losing ground,” Elliston said. “And we’re standing still at $100,000 to $110,000 a day in purses.”

The December holiday meet traditionally produces the track’s largest average field size of about 10 horses per race. By running four days a week instead of five, the figure could hold.

For the 2011 winter/spring meet, racing will be offered four days a week in January and three in February and March. With horsemen knowing in advance that Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia would be closed in January and February 2011, some stock is expected to race in Kentucky.