Ohio Panel Frowns on Dates Request

The Ohio State Racing Commission indicated Aug. 21 it will have a difficult time approving requests by two racetracks that call for only four total days of Thoroughbred racing in 2009.

Beulah Park in Grove City applied for two Thoroughbred dates and 28 Quarter Horse dates, while River Downs near Cincinnati requested two Thoroughbred dates and 14 Quarter Horse dates. Traditionally, the two tracks combined offer about 225 live Thoroughbred dates per year.

Officials with the tracks said financial woes largely brought about by a dispute over advance deposit wagering have stung them, and they have no recourse. When they presented their plans during the OSRC meeting at River Downs, commission executive secretary Sam Zonak said: “I’ll defer that one to my commissioners.”

The commission was prepared to award 2009 dates, and did so for two Standardbred tracks that had the necessary agreements with horsemen in place. Instead, the commission deferred the matter to its October meeting, and indicated there would be no extensions.

“I think it would be prudent at this time (to defer a decision),” OSRC chairman William Koester said.

Thistledown near Cleveland applied for 90 Thoroughbred dates; this year, it negotiated 122 dates with the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. The track’s application also was deferred because it has no agreement with the horsemen’s group.

River Downs general manager Jack Hanessian said there is no requirement in the state racing law for his track to run more than one Thoroughbred date each year. Still, the commission wasn’t satisfied.

“Granting one Thoroughbred date at this point by the state, I would not be for that,” OSRC member Thomas Zaino said. “It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not good for racing.”

After the meeting, track officials said they hoped to have a deal with horsemen by mid-October.

“That’s what I want to do, if the horsemen can come up with a solution,” Hanessian said. “I can’t operate 102 (live days of racing) here anymore. My overhead is too high.”

“The last winter beat the crap out of us,” Beulah Park general manager Mike Weiss said.

Hanessian and Weiss claimed the dispute with horsemen over ADW revenue has cost purse accounts at the two tracks a combined $800,000, but horsemen have said ADW contributions to purses at the tracks is much lower. The tracks offer among the lowest purses in the nation for Thoroughbred racing.

Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler said Beulah Park and River Downs didn't notify him of their requests before they were submitted. Usually, he said, there is discussion.

"I would love to sit down and talk with both tracks," Basler said.

Basler also said he doesn't expect the OSRC or horsemen to allow Beulah Park and River Downs to become 11-month-a-year simulcast parlors.

"I can't envision any scenario where we'd sign a two-party agreement that would allow that to happen," he said.