Turfway Park

Turfway Park

Pat Lang

Turfway Calendar Intact, But Changes Loom

Turfway won't reduce racing days the rest of this year, but 2010 may be different.

A reduction in stakes purses for its upcoming meet will allow Turfway Park to maintain overnight purses and racing days, but track officials are thinking ahead to 2010, when that probably won't be the case.

Turfway announced Aug. 10 it has cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from stakes purses for its 22-day meet that spans Sept. 9-Oct. 8. Two $100,000 Kentucky Cup stakes for 2-year-olds are among the casualties.

Turfway president Bob Elliston said Aug. 11 with the Northern Kentucky track celebrating its 50th anniversary, he wanted to keep the meet intact. So Turfway plans to race Wednesdays through Sundays, with 10 live races per day.

A number of anniversary-related events are scheduled throughout the meet, so the track opted not to cut racing days. Turfway opened in August 1959 as Latonia Race Course.

“We’re forecasting average daily purses excluding stakes right at the same numbers as the fall of 2008,” Elliston said. “We clearly would have had to cut them if we didn’t reduce the stakes program.”

During last year’s fall meet—it actually begins in the summer—purses averaged $153,741 per day, including stakes. Field size averaged 8.51 horses per race.

For the December holiday meet, Elliston said Turfway again plans to maintain a five-day-per-week live racing schedule. That meet traditionally proves quite popular at the entry box; in 2008, field size averaged 10.4 horses per race for 21 days of racing.

Changes may come beginning Jan. 1, 2010 when the winter/spring meet begins. Turfway pays out more purse money in those three months than the other two meets combined, but in 2009, field size and handle suffered as horses left the state or didn't ship in.

“September and December are usually pretty solid,” Elliston said. “But there’s near certainty we’ll apply for fewer days in 2010. We’d run over the same calendar, but maybe only four or even three days a week.

“We’ll make our application for 2010 dates in September, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to maintain a five-day race week next year.”

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, couldn't be immediately reached for comment, but in late July said horsemen expect the track will request a condensed scheduled beginning in January.

For the 2009 winter/spring meet, field size averaged 7.98 horses per race. Competition for horses in other states began to take its toll, so fewer racing days could help increase field size, which in turn can boost handle.

Much hinges on what occurs during the 2010 Kentucky General Assembly session, when the issue of racetrack video lottery terminals is expected to resurface after failing to pass this year. Elliston indicated no decision on the schedule for the second half of 2010 would be made until the legislative session ends.

“If we were able to successfully pass legislation next spring, we could absolutely redirect money and (return fall meet stakes),” Elliston said. “Hopefully, we’d not only bring the races back, but build up stakes purses as well. Kentucky Cup has proven to be one of the best days of racing in the country.”

For the meet that begins Sept. 9, racing will begin at 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday through Friday, and at 1:10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For the holiday meet, post time moves to 5:30 p.m. EST on weeknights, and remains at 1:10 p.m. on weekends. Racing is held in the afternoon the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day.