Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs

Anne M. Eberhardt

Churchill Hikes Purses, Warns of Competition

Overnight purses at Churchill Downs will increase 10% effective June 12.

Churchill Downs announced June 8 it will raise overnight purses 10% effective June 12 for the final three weeks of its spring meet.

The increase is projected to raise the daily average for 2010 spring meet purses to about $279,000 per day, slightly more than the daily average of $271,000 in 2009. Spring meet overnight purses peaked with a daily average of $297,000 in 2006, Churchill officials said.

Track officials said the increase was made possible by revenue increases for this year’s Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (both gr. I) programs. Handle was up both days.

Churchill doesn’t release daily handle figures, and officials didn’t say whether handle is up during the spring meet. The track did, however, say the increase isn’t enough to compete with racetracks at which purses are boosted by alternative gaming.

“This 10% increase in our overnight purses is good news for owners and trainers who have continued to race their horses at Churchill Downs despite intensifying competitive pressures from racing states with purses boosted by additional gaming revenues,” Churchill president Kevin Flanery said in a statement. “This purse hike underscores the enormous value and importance of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks to our track, our horsemen, and the entire racing industry.

“While we are very pleased that our horsemen will be competing for larger-than-anticipated purses over the final three weeks of the spring meet, our long-term concern for Churchill Downs racing and Kentucky’s horse industry has not changed. Despite this increase, our purses remain well shy of their highest levels of recent years, and struggle to compete with purses fueled by slot machine and casino revenues offered at tracks in racing states on Kentucky’s borders and beyond.”

Indiana Downs, which has slot machines, has lured Kentucky-based horses during its current meet. The higher-level races at the Indiana track often are filled with horses that normally would compete at Churchill at this time of year.

Maiden special weight events at Indiana Downs go for $32,000, a good pot for horsemen looking to duck tougher competition at Churchill even though the purse is higher at about $48,000, including a Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplement.

Purses for overnight races—overnight stakes, allowance, maiden special weight, claiming, and maiden claiming events—will increase about $3,000 per race at Churchill, officials said.

Churchill last spring scaled back to four-day racing weeks, and maintained that schedule this year.

“We would like to be able to say we found a way to offset ongoing industry-wide handle declines and the competitive pressure from the growing number of states that have authorized slots at their racetracks, but we haven’t,” Flanery said. “This purse increase stems from a stronger than anticipated wagering on our two biggest events, and from our commitment made last fall to provide a $1.5 million supplement to Churchill Downs purses over three years with the intent of keeping as many horsemen as possible in Kentucky.

“These aren’t long-term solutions to the problems facing Kentucky’s signature industry, but at the very least they could ease the growing pressure on our horse industry as we wait for the Kentucky legislature to authorize slots at our state’s tracks, allow us to invest in Kentucky jobs, and take on those out-of-state tracks that now possess a huge competitive advantage.”