Thoroughbred Dates Restored in Ohio

Beulah Park and River Downs will race their usual Thoroughbred meets in 2009.

Requests by Beulah Park and River Downs to schedule their customary Thoroughbred meets for 2009 were officially granted Dec. 19 by the Ohio State Racing Commission.

Beulah Park, already approved for a fall meet that begins Oct. 13, will open Jan. 10 for a 70-day Thoroughbred meet that runs through May 2. River Downs, which earlier was granted only 14 Quarter Horse dates for next year, was approved for 102 Thoroughbred dates from April 17-Sept. 7.

Without the adjustment, Ohio horsemen would have had no racing until May 1, when Thistledown is scheduled to open. Horsemen would have lost more than 160 days of racing.

“I know a lot of heartburn went into this,” OSRC chairman Willie Koester said. “There will be a lot of horsemen at ease.”

Beulah Park won’t run a spring Quarter Horse meet approved earlier, but will offer four days of Quarter Horse racing during the year. River Downs will offer three Quarter Horse dates.

River Downs received a letter of conditional approval from the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association for its contract Dec. 19. “We’re not anticipating any problems,” River Downs general manager Jack Hanessian said. “I believe we’re close to it but not quite there yet.”

Hanessian said a concern is the schedule at Thistledown, which was approved for 91 dates of racing but is in the process of being sold by Magna Entertainment Corp. River Downs and Thistledown traditionally combined for a “7&7” program on most racing dates. If there are contractual problems and Thistledown can’t export its signal, “it throws everything into chaos,” Hanessian said.

Hanessian said he’s also concerned about the horse population. River Downs will race five days a week, and this year, Thistledown isn’t scheduling any Sundays, so River Downs will have to fill a full card on its own. Also, Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park will race more Thoroughbred dates with purses expected to double because of revenue from slot machines.

“We may be forced to cancel races or days of racing,” Hanessian said.

Beulah Park, which canceled live racing Dec. 19 because of track conditions, wraps up its fall meet Dec. 20. The racing surface will be renovated before the winter meet begins.

The Ohio HBPA struck a deal with Beulah Park and River Downs on advance deposit wagering revenue and racing dates just days before the Dec. 19 OSRC meeting. Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler at the time said the deals averted "immediate disaster," because about 1,000 horses at Beulah Park would have been forced off the grounds Dec. 27.

Still up in the air is the Ohio Thoroughbred Race Fund schedule for 2009. The program, which offers stakes for Ohio-registered horses as well as bonuses for breeders and stallion owners, has a $600,000 carryover from this year, but revenue is expected to continue its decline in 2009.

“I think the Thoroughbreds are going to be making major cuts (in the program),” OSRC executive secretary Sam Zonak said. “The money is not coming in.”

Because the program hasn’t been approved by the OSRC, provisions were made to pay state-bred awards at Beulah Park in January. State-bred stakes usually aren’t run until March of each year.

The racing commission itself was about $350,000 in the red through Nov. 30 compared with the same period in 2007. It does have a cash balance of about $1.5 million but has been slowly using those funds.

“In terms of the budget, we’re actually doing worse,” OSRC member Tom Zaino said. “Our budget didn’t expect how bad racing was going to be this year.”

In keeping with annual trends, total handle in Ohio is down about 12% from last year.