River Downs

River Downs

Christine A. Wittmer

River Downs Seeking Shorter Racing Week

River Downs would prefer to race four days a week this year.

River Downs, which anticipates further erosion of pari-mutuel revenue this year, has asked the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association to consider a reduction in 2010 racing dates.

The Ohio State Racing Commission granted River Downs 104 Thoroughbred dates from April 9-Sept. 6, racing five days a week on a Friday-through-Tuesday schedule. River Downs met with horsemen the week of Feb. 8 to discuss a reduction.

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” River Downs general manager Jack Hanessian said Feb. 17. “If we don’t get a reduction, the purses will be paltry.”

Last year, River Downs paid about $43,000 a day in overnight purses. That figure doesn’t include almost $400,000 in Ohio Thoroughbred Fund money for stakes.

If the current schedule remains intact, River Downs projects $37,000 a day in overnight purses this year. With a 90-day meet, the figure would be $42,000, and for an 80-day meet, $47,000.

“We’d like to race 80 days,” Hanessian said. “That’s using reduced money available because of a decline in business, and it also would avoid an overpayment of purses.”

Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler earlier acknowledged the meeting with River Downs officials and said horsemen are considering the options. He said a decision would be forthcoming.

River Downs, under the 80-day plan, probably would drop Tuesdays and race Fridays through Mondays. Hanessian said he’s awaiting word from Thistledown near Cleveland on whether it intends to partner with River Downs in the long-running “7&7” program this year.

Hanessian said dropping Sunday racing isn’t an option. Saturdays and Sundays, he said, are the “only chance we have to get people to show up.”

Handle at River Downs was impacted last year by a number of factors, including field size. According to The Jockey Club Information Systems, field size averaged 7.23 horses per race; officials said a four-day week could boost that number.

“People bet more on larger fields,” Hanessian said.

Through 23 days of racing this year at Beulah Park near Columbus, purses averaged $35,320 a day, according to TJCIS. Field size averaged 8.43 horses per race.

Beulah Park has a cushion of about $300,000 in its purse account, but that’s not an indication business is improving in Ohio.

According to the Ohio State Racing Commission, on-site handle at the state’s three Thoroughbred tracks through Feb. 13 was down 18.1% compared with the same period a year ago. Handle at three harness tracks, which offer wagering on Thoroughbred races, was down 11.4% for the period.