Some Ohio Tracks Face Further Dates Reduction

Racing interests in Ohio continued to negotiate Nov. 1 to seal the deal on a 2005 live racing schedule that would reduce dates for Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing by more than 10%. But time was running out.

The Ohio State Racing Commission awarded dates during an Oct. 20 meeting, but in the absence of a nine-party agreement between three Thoroughbred tracks, four Standardbred tracks, and two horsemen's associations, the commission said it would meet again Nov. 2 if necessary to award the minimum number of dates allowable by law. If so, the schedule would revert to 1991 levels and offer fewer racing dates for some tracks than the number contained in the commission's latest proposal.

As of Nov. 1, it appeared the Nov. 2 meeting would be necessary.

At issue is a provision in the nine-party agreement concerning revenue from a dark-day simulcast purse pool. In Ohio, money from the pool is awarded to the seven tracks on a percentage basis regardless of breed. Thoroughbred horsemen have said Thoroughbred simulcasts generate the most handle in Ohio, but revenue from the simulcasts goes to harness interests.

In a statement released Nov. 1, Bob Reeves, a member of the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association board of directors, said: "Our understanding all along was that any voluntary cut in racing days in Ohio must come part and parcel with a freezing of the combined simulcast purse fund. That freeze must include both what goes into the fund and what purse accounts get out of the fund. We believe our position is consistent with the initial goal of the Ohio State Racing Commission."

The HBPA, one of the nine parties, recently voted in favor of the racing commission plan. Approval was contingent on a freeze in the purse fund so no purse accounts would be impacted.

"The harness side of racing proposed an agreement that would freeze what each purse account gets out of the fund, but not how much would have to be contributed to the fund," HBPA executive director Dan Theno said. "If you have less live days, you naturally are going to have more dark days. It ends up that under the suggested language from the harness side, our purse accounts would be getting the same amount in 2005 as they did in 2004, but would be contributing over $1 million more into the fund and receiving $737,000 back for Thoroughbred purses.

"The harness tracks would contribute $411,000 additional to the fund and receive $686,000 back."

Under the Thoroughbred dates approved by the commission, Thistledown near Cleveland would race 154 dates next year, down 17.6% from this year; Beulah Park near Columbus would race 135 dates, down 5.6%; and River Downs near Cincinnati would race 99 dates, a decrease of 18.8%.

Should the dates revert to 1991 levels, Beulah Park would lose 21 more dates. River Downs and Thistledown already are under the 1991 levels. Northfield Park, a harness track awarded 211 dates for 2005, would lose an additional 29 days under the 1991 calendar, something that wouldn't sit well with Standardbred interests.