Ellis Park

Ellis Park

Anne M. Eberhardt

Ellis Intends to Race; Turfway Plans Cutbacks

Ellis Park will seek 2010 race dates while Turfway Park will request fewer dates.

The owner of Ellis Park said Sept. 29 the struggling Kentucky racetrack will apply for racing dates in 2010, while the president of Turfway Park said the track would seek fewer racing dates next year.

How many dates will be requested from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and whether the request will be approved, remains to be seen, Ellis Park owner Ron Geary said. Meanwhile, Turfway president Bob Elliston declined to reveal specifics of the Northern Kentucky track’s dates request. But he said it would be fewer than the number of live racing days run in 2009.

"It speaks to maintaining the caliber of racing we are able to do in terms or horse population and purse size," Elliston said during a KHRC meeting.

By law, Kentucky tracks must submit dates requests prior to Oct. 1. The commission has set an Oct. 27 meeting to consider 2010 racing dates.

Purse cutbacks and a reduction in the number of horses competing in each race have negatively impacted Kentucky tracks over the last year due to competition from tracks in nearby states where racing is enhanced by revenue for video lottery terminals and slot machines.

Racing dates on the Kentucky circuit have remained about the same for years, with track operators content to maintain their traditional schedules. The status quo has been brought into question, however, as a result of the problems facing the Kentucky racing circuit because of the competition for horses from tracks in Indiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, all of which have alternative gaming.

Legislation to approve VLTs at Kentucky tracks failed during this year’s special session of the General Assembly.

At one point earlier this year, Geary said Ellis Park would not race in 2010 if alternative gaming was not legalized in the state. He later said there was a possibility Ellis Park would request dates for next year.

The question of whether Ellis Park would apply for dates arose as a result of the track’s recent meet in which live racing days were cut from the approved dates due to a limited supply of horses. Pressed on how many dates would be requested by Ellis Park, and whether the track intended to fulfill that commitment, Geary declined to be specific.

"We are going to come up with some kind of application," Geary said. "We don’t have everything set in stone. But we have been talking a lot and are trying to be innovative and creative, to take this tremendously unlevel playing field we find ourselves in and try to find a way to survive.

"The documents say that whatever (dates) we apply for, we are in good faith planning on running those dates. My intent would be to try to find a way to run."

Geary said he did not know what requests other tracks would make with regard to dates, but that there is general agreement among the track operators that a year-round racing circuit be maintained in the state. He said track operators had met with KHRC chairman Robert Beck recently to discuss the state of the Kentucky racing program, but that specifics of what dates the other tracks would be requesting did not come up.

The question of dates were posed to Elliston and Geary following a special meeting of the KHRC. Facing an Oct. 1 deadline, the commission unanimously approved a completely revamped license application for racetracks.

The new application form requests more information about the ownership and operations of the tracks. The new license applications will be submitted for implementation as emergency regulations, which would allow them to go into effect sooner than if the entire regulatory process is followed. The documents can be viewed at http://www.khrc.ky/gov/.

Elliston and Geary agreed that the new application takes more time to complete, but they supported the new document. They also said the commission’s rule committee had been very cooperative in working with the tracks throughout the process of drafting the new paperwork.

Elliston and Geary were the only two representatives of Kentucky tracks at the meeting.

Meanwhile, a representative of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which must approve cutbacks in live racing dates, said he was unaware any other tracks would be seeking reduced racing in 2010. Marty Maline, executive director of the horsemen’s group, said he did not know exactly what requests were being made by the tracks. He speculated, however, that any cutbacks at Turfway  would likely come in January and February.

"It’s obvious the decreases are warranted," Maline said, noting that the Kentucky HBPA was working with the tracks on their schedules and isn't inclined to oppose them. "(Turfway officials) haven’t specifically said what they may be contemplating, but I suspect something in January or February."