Plan to Boost Ohio Racing Appears Doomed

Final approval of a live racing schedule for 2005 in Ohio stalled again Nov. 2 and put in jeopardy an Ohio State Racing Commission-led effort to reduce dates in an attempt to improve economic conditions for the horse racing industry.

In Ohio, a nine-party agreement among three Thoroughbred tracks, four Standardbred tracks, and two horsemen's associations must be in place before racing dates drop below the total of 949 required by law. The deal stalled when Thoroughbred horsemen claimed harness interests wouldn't agree to issues related to simulcast revenue.

Friction between the two breeds has overshadowed Ohio racing for years, and it apparently lingers despite the fact all the parties agreed modifications are necessary for purses to increase or at least remain at 2004 levels given the fact handle continues to decline.

Three Thoroughbred tracks--Beulah Park, River Downs, and Thistledown, were awarded 441 live racing days for 2005, or 21 over the minimum allowed by law. During an Oct. 20 meeting, the tracks had agreed to a commission schedule that authorized 388 days of racing next year.

Under the latest scenario, which could change before the issue comes up yet again Nov. 18, Beulah Park would race 135 days, the number for which it was earlier approved. River Downs would race 119 days, up from 99 under the commission plan. Thistledown would race 187 days, up from 154.

The tracks had agreed a cut in dates would funnel revenue into fewer races and increase purses by 15% to 20% at River Downs and Thistledown. Horsemen at Beulah Park had requested more races with no increase in purses.

On the Standardbred side, live racing days would drop to 471 from the 491 approved by the commission Oct. 20. Northfield Park, which races the most days of any Ohio track, would take a loss of 18 days.

The situation presents problems for the harness industry, because three tracks--Lebanon Raceway, Raceway Park, and Scioto Downs were approved for dates below the minimum. Without a nine-party agreement, they would have to add dates to their 2005 schedules.

Without a deal, if any track doesn't race the required minimum number of dates, it can't accept simulcasts from out-of-state tracks.