Ohio Thoroughbred Interests Agree to Dates Reduction

Ohio's Thoroughbred tracks will race 24 fewer days in 2007 in keeping with a plan to increase average daily purses and boost field size by offering fewer races.

The schedule, agreed to by tracks and horsemen's groups, will be voted on Dec. 15 by the Ohio State Racing Commission.

According to the schedule proposed by the commission, there would be 366 live Thoroughbred racing dates at three tracks next year and 374 live days overall when Quarter Horse days are included. On the Standardbred side, there would be 476 live programs--six fewer than 2006--at four tracks.

Last year, 960 live racing programs were offered in the state before a reduction to 872 live days this year. The reduction was pushed by commission chairman Norm Barron, who believes the industry must find ways to offer competitive purses without having the benefit of alternative gaming.

In early November, a racing industry-supported referendum that would have permitted video lottery terminals at Ohio tracks failed to pass.

Even if it had been approved and survived any legal challenges, VLT revenue wouldn't have been realized next year; the tracks would have had to advance purse money to horsemen, as has been the case in some other states with gaming devices, or trim racing schedules.

Thistledown near Cleveland shaved 20 dates, the most of any track in the state. Thistledown will race 136 days from April 13-Nov. 19.

Beulah Park (winter and fall) and River Downs (spring and summer), the other two Thoroughbred tracks, will have basically the number of days as in 2006.

Northfield Park, which relies heavily on export of its signal and is one of the top harness tracks in the country handle-wise with a nightly average of more than $1 million, will race 217 days, the most of any harness track in the state next year.

In order for Ohio tracks to schedule fewer live days than the 1,078 mandated by the Ohio Revised Code, all racetracks and horsemen's groups--nine parties in the state--had to agree to the reduction.

The agreement in 2006 was considered an experiment, but one that could be renewed from year to year if all parties agree, officials said.