River Downs

River Downs

Christine A. Wittmer

Deal Averts 'Immediate Disaster' in Ohio

Ohio horsemen have a deal in place for racing dates at Beulah Park and River Downs.

Racetrack management and horsemen in Ohio struck an agreement Dec. 16 that will reinstate more than 160 Thoroughbred racing dates at Beulah Park and River Downs in 2009, and save more than 1,000 horses at Beulah Park from being forced out of the track’s stable area by Dec. 27.

The Ohio State Racing Commission will consider the revised requests for dates Dec. 19. Beulah Park in November was approved for a spring Quarter Horse meet and fall Thoroughbred meet next year, while River Downs requested and was granted only 14 days of Quarter Horse racing.

If the commission approves the requests, Beulah Park will hold its traditional winter meet beginning in January, and River Downs will race as usual from May through early September.

Thistledown, the state’s third Thoroughbred track, was approved for 91 days of racing in 2009, but that could change pending sale of the Cleveland-area facility by Magna Entertainment Corp.

If the agreement hadn’t been signed, Ohio horsemen would have had no live racing, except at Thistledown, until early October. And, the horse population would have had to relocate—or worse.

“We avoided the immediate disaster,” Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Dave Basler said Dec. 17.

Officials wouldn’t discuss the financial details of the deal, which centers on revenue from advance deposit wagering. But the Ohio HBPA, working with the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Group, has sought a formula whereby horsemen, tracks, and ADW providers would each get roughly one-third of every dollar wagered.

Basler confirmed the horsemen’s group has a signed contract with Beulah Park. TrackNet Media Group, whose partners are Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp., has signed off on the ADW portion, he said. Those companies operate TwinSpires.com and XpressBet.com, respectively.

“We have given our consent for Beulah Park to send its signal to all four of the major ADWs based on major terms and conditions,” Basler said. “It’s a better deal financially for horsemen than the previous agreement. As a standing member of the THG, a national deal wasn’t able to be struck (for ADW revenue), but time was of the essence.”

Beulah Park majority owner Charles Ruma negotiated on behalf of Beulah Park and River Downs. The agreement is for ADW revenue and live racing dates; Beulah Park agreed to race 121 days, and River Downs 102, the same number it offered this year.

Earlier, River Downs officials indicated a desire to race fewer dates—between 80 and 90—to offer higher purses and fuller fields.

Basler said the Ohio HBPA has a “tentative agreement” with River Downs, though the negotiated contract calls for 102 racing dates.

Beulah Park general manager Mike Weiss said he hopes to increase purses—cut, reinstated, and cut again during the fall meet—when racing resumes in January. At the very least, they will return to levels listed in the first fall meet condition book.

For 42 days from Oct. 14-Dec. 16, purses averaged $36,841 a day—one of the lowest payouts in the country—at Beulah Park. For the 2007 fall meet, daily average purses were $51,289, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems.

As of Dec. 17, track officials were preparing a schedule to be presented to the OSRC for approval, Weiss said. The commission has expressed a willingness to reconsider racing schedules, but whether the requests will be considered cut and dry remains to be seen.

This year, the track’s signal wasn’t exported out of state for a short time, and also wasn’t available on any ADW platforms, including BetPad.com, of which Beulah Park is part owner. The purse cuts were blamed on the decline in handle from multiple sources.

Beulah Park’s racing surface, described as “hard” by one official, has been problematic in December, with several catastrophic breakdowns and injuries to jockeys. According to the Jockeys’ Guild, the OSRC was asked to intervene.

Weiss said new material would be added to the dirt surface after the fall meet ends Dec. 20. The surface has been plagued by a freeze-thaw process that usually strikes in the winter.

“We always take the break (between meets) to work with the track,” Weiss said. “Safety is always a priority, even more so here because of the level of the horses.”