Ohio Horsemen and Tracks Agree on Fewer Race Dates

The Ohio State Racing Commission is expected to approve a cut in the number of live Thoroughbred and harness racing dates in the state during its Nov. 19 meeting.

Under the proposed plan by state racing commission chairman Norman Barron, 31 days would be reduced at Thistledown, 13 at Beulah Park , and 19 at River Downs for the 2006 racing season.

The number of days raced in 2007 would revert to the previous number of racing days if any horsemen's group or a track objected to continuing the Barron proposal the following year.

This isn't the first time the idea of cutting the number of live racing dates in Ohio has been batted around. Last year, the commission attempted to cut the number of days in order to increase purses but the measure failed after an agreement could not be reached between the four Thoroughbred tracks, three harness tracks, and two horsemen's associations. The Thoroughbred horsemen claimed the harness association could not agree on issues related to simulcast revenue.

"We are very much agree on the reduced number of days," said Bill Couch, Thistledown director of racing. "Other than the slots-fuled tracks, we race more than any other circuit."

Couch said cutting Thistledown's live racing days from 187 to 156 would allow the track to increase purses around 19%.

"What we are talking about is increasing the purses for higher claiming, maiden, and lifetime condition races," he continued. "We have a committee of horsemen and management that are looking at the numbers, and we'll do the best we can to help everybody."

Barron's plan also allows tracks to retain in purse accounts the purse portion of handle on live days that are converted into dark days. Currently, the purse portion of handle on dark days is sent to the state's Combined Simulcast Purse Fund for re-distribution to all Ohio tracks, both Thoroughbred and harness.

"Not every HBPA Board member was pleased with the proposal," said Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association executive director Dan Theno. "However, it came down to the choice of more racing opportunities or better purses. The Board of Directors settled on better purses. This one-year experiment will show us if reducing the number of racing days is good for the industry."

The Ohio HBPA has calculated that the allowance for tracks to retain that money locally will add around $1-million to Thoroughbred purses.

Under state law, all tracks, the harness horsemen's association, and HBPA must agree to change the number of racing days if they go below 1991 levels.