Indiana Downs Begins Transition Meet

The live Thoroughbred racing season began in Indiana April 25 with positive numbers.

Indiana Downs enjoyed a promising start to its 54-day Thoroughbred meet April 25-26, with large crowds and strong wagering. Indiana Downs will offer racing through July 8.

“I’m very pleased,” track general manager Jon Schuster said. “Our crowd on Friday was unbelievable. There were a lot of new faces.”

Schuster said total handle--nearly $667,000 for 12 races--was up roughly 45% from opening night in 2007. On-track handle for the opening program was up 25%. All told, handle for the first two days of racing increased $200,000 from 2007.

“We had a great crowd, and there was a buzz about racing,” Schuster said. “We were in Northern California for some of our races Friday. It was just a good time.”

Indiana Downs has had to make some adjustments given the fact a slot-machine casino is under construction in front of its grandstand/clubhouse on land that used to be the main parking lot. A temporary slots facility also is being built on property behind the backstretch.

For Thoroughbred racing, the slots revenue won't kick in for purses until 2009. Thus, this year's meet is one of transition.

Full fields were carded in five of the 12 races April 25, with seven of the remaining contests attracting nine or more horses. Entries were not as strong April 26, but Butch Cook, racing secretary at the track, said that is to be expected with a dip in ship-ins coming to Indiana Downs.

“Our biggest majority of shippers come from Northern Kentucky, Lexington, and Louisville,” Cook said. “There are not as many Turfway Park ship-ins.”

With fuel costs on the rise, a track like Indiana Downs, which relies heavily on ship-ins, stands to be impacted. Schuster noted the problem is not exclusive to his facility; it is occurring across the country.

“A lot of horsemen are being more selective,” Cook said. “They are waiting to get two or three horses in one day. They are racing locally. For some, what used to be a $70 or $80 trip is now $200.”

Though the participation by horsemen shipping to Indiana Downs is down, Cook said the cheaper races have been impacted most. Traditionally, horsemen have oversubscribed to cheaper races, and in turn, the racing secretary would write more. So far this season, Cook is filling better races, including condition allowance events and higher-priced claiming contests.

“We’re really not getting a lot of them,” Cook said of lower-level horses. “We’re still filling cheaper races, but they are not overfilling.”

Last season, total wagering during Indiana Downs’ 48-day Thoroughbred meet increased nearly 29%. Much of the success was attributed to a change in schedule in which twilight cards were offered Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday each week.

This season, the track will once again offer a 4:55 p.m. EDT first post each of the three days, with racing slated to start at 6:55 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The schedule allows Cook to card three turf races during the twilight cards and up to two races on the weekend. Indiana Downs has a lighted main track but no lights around its grass course.

“We start next week on the grass,” Cook said. “They all want to run on the grass. I’ll try to have one race on Friday and a couple Saturday.”