The Thoroughbred racing season in Indiana begins April 21 at Indiana Downs, where management has fine-tuned the racing calendar to maximize interest from horsemen and develop more interest in the national simulcast market.
Horsemen at the track located southeast of Indianapolis will race for $95,000 a day in purses, up about $500 per race from 2005. Early interest in the 49-day meet appears strong given the full fields drawn for opening night.
With the recent changes adopted by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission to improve race-day integrity, Indiana Downs racing secretary Raymond "Butch" Cook believed some horsemen might be hesitant to enter horses at the outset. "It's a good opening day card," he said. "I was concerned a little bit because of the new commission rules, but I think opening a week later this year helped."
Indiana Downs is kicking off its meet one week later than in 2005, but the Shelbyville facility also opened the track for training March 6 to give local horsemen six weeks to prepare. Cook also said Indiana Downs is benefiting from Turfway Park's decision to leave its barn area open. Ship-ins are critical to Indiana Downs' success, as Cook has only 501 stalls to allocate. This year, he received stall applications for 1,150 horses.
"We depend on a lot of ship-ins," Cook said. "We saw a lot of horses from (Turfway) drop in the box. A lot of the outfits that went to River Downs initially are staying at Turfway. It can't hurt us at all. It gives us more horses."
River Downs in Ohio opened for live racing April 14 with a 16% increase in purses compared with last year. Officials there also said Turfway's decision to stay open for training would benefit its racing program.
The bottom claiming class at Indiana Downs will compete for a $7,600 purse. Last season, the track averaged 8.7 starters per race; Cook believes the number could increase to nine this year.
The weekly racing calendar has been changed significantly. Building upon the success of "Turf Tuesdays," Indiana Downs will have a 4:55 p.m. first post on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, first post is scheduled for 6:55 p.m. (Most of Indiana is now on daylight savings time.)
The changes were made to maximize the simulcast signal and the track's seven-furlong turf course, which has no lighting system.
"If the weather cooperates, we'll run on the grass for the first time (Kentucky) Derby night (May 6)," Cook said. "I plan to card a minimum three turf races a night during the week, and use one or two on Saturdays. With the adjustable rail, we have a lot of options."
With a weekday simulcast product that begins just as many of the daytime tracks are concluding, and programs that begin with grass racing, Cook believes Indiana Downs could break the $1-million mark in handle for a single program for the first time.
"I'm really optimistic," he said. "I think we're going to have it this year."