Hoosier Kicks Off 10th Season With Mixed Bag

by James Platz

Hoosier Park kicked off its 10th Thoroughbred meet over the Labor Day weekend with strong overall attendance but soft handle figures.

The 60-day meet began Sept. 2. Nearly 7,500 patrons visited the facility over the first five programs, with a crowd of 2,689 Sept. 4. Total handle exceeded $900,000 on each of the first four programs, but the facility averaged close to $1.5 million in daily handle last season during a 60-day meet.

"So many tracks are closing this weekend, and there is so much pressure to keep horses at those facilities to finish strong," Hoosier Park president and general manager Rick Moore said. "We've had a few small fields, but we don't want to overreact. We've lost some trifecta and superfecta fields, and we weren't able to export our signal to Florida or some locations on the East Coast."

Racing secretary Butch Cook said the light entry box at Hoosier Park is no different than many of the other tracks competing for horses. He said once other facilities close, the demand for ship-ins will lessen and he won't have as much trouble filling races. The track received stall applications for more than 2,000 horses.

"All the tracks have been hustling," Cook said. "But our average field size is probably as good as other tracks right now."

Cook has slightly revamped the condition book in 2004. He dropped $3,500 claimers and raised the bottom to $4,000. Maiden special weight and allowance races also received a $1,500 bump. Open allowance races are going for $14,500 as opposed to $13,000 last season, and straight maiden races carry a purse of $11,500.

Also new to the program is a claiming marathon. The marathon will cover several distances, beginning at 1 1/16 miles and increasing to two miles. Horses racing for a $4,000 price tag will carry 110 pounds, and for every $500 more, two pounds will be added.

"The purse structure hasn't changed--we've just added more money to the higher-end races," Cook said.

Hoosier Park, the majority owner of which is Churchill Downs Inc., is slated to offer 17 stakes highlighted by the $500,000 Indiana Derby (gr. II) and $400,000 Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. III) Oct. 2 and Oct. 1, respectively.