Mixed Numbers for Second Season at Indiana Downs

by James Platz

Indiana Downs closed out its 48-day Thoroughbred meet June 20 with new records, but statistically, the Shelbyville racetrack had mixed results for its second season. While the track experienced an increase in simulcast handle and attendance, on-track handle and number of starters per race were down for the meet.

Indiana Downs generated $2,480, 386 in on-track handle, an average of $51,675. In 2003, the track handled $1,692,507 on track for 30 programs, an average of $56,417.

Off-track handle this season totaled $11,970,829, up from $7,006,277 in 2003. General Manager Jon Schuster said Indiana Downs averaged 9.2 starters per race last season, but that number slipped to 8.23 in 2004.

"In terms of live handle, we're very close to last year," Schuster said. "Our starters were down a little bit, so we had fewer starters per race. We also had fewer races per day. Taking that into consideration, we really had a better year."

Schuster said there were several factors that contributed to a shortage at the entry box, but a reduction in purses didn't play a significant role. Instead, he said that racing five days a week from the start of the meet was influential.

In 2003, Indiana Downs gradually worked into a five-day-a-week schedule. Schuster said even though Indiana Downs offered higher purses than some other tracks in the Midwest, horsemen opted not to ship. Schuster said limited stall space--Indiana Downs only has 430 stalls--was a hindrance.

"Stall space is primarily a Thoroughbred issue," he said. "We intend to add stalls, but I'm not sure how many."

Two elements of Indiana Downs' meet that influenced the product were the debut of the seven-furlong turf course and moving switching from Tuesday nights to Sunday afternoon. The move to Sunday racing was spurred by the desire to cultivate fans.

Schuster said what was lost in export simulcast handle for a Tuesday program was recouped in on-track business each Sunday. In fact, the meet's last card, held on Father's Day, generated twice the on-track handle of any previous matinee.

"I don't think it was a bad move," Schuster said. "It wasn't abysmal by any stretch. Fan cultivation was up significantly. It was a big positive that way."

Though some numbers may not have been what management expected, Indiana Downs closed the meet with a bang. The June 18 card generated just over $507,000 in handle, the most ever for a program. The previous record, set during opening day in 2003, was $504,000 from all sources.

"It all came together real nice," Schuster said. "I was just pleased with everything. It's not where we want to be, but we're headed in the right direction. An awful lot of things were done right, and our trends are up across the board."

Rodney Prescott was leading rider on the strength of 73 wins from 368 starts. His mounts produced earnings of $617,873. Gary Patrick secured leading trainer honors with 30 wins in 204 starts. Runners from his stable earned $231,317.