Indianapolis Downs is taking shape.

Indianapolis Downs is taking shape.

Matt Goins

New Indiana Track to Race Thoroughbreds in 2003

by James Platz
Indianapolis Downs, a Standardbred track currently under construction and set to open in Shelby County in December, is poised to offer at least 20 days of Thoroughbred racing in 2003.

During an Indiana Horse Racing Commission meeting Aug. 19, representatives of the racing association asked commissioners to consider making a seven- to 10-day turf meet "meaningful," and thus exempt the track from a simulcast revenue-sharing provision that was part of the permit granted last year. Commissioners approved a staff recommendation presented by executive director Joe Gorajec, but not without modifications.

After a more than four-hour debate, Indianapolis Downs received permission to conduct Thoroughbred racing next year. The ruling will allow the track to keep revenues generated from Thoroughbred simulcasts, which could total hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the facility had not offered Thoroughbred racing next year, it would have forfeited half the revenues from Thoroughbred racing to Hoosier Park.

The staff report called for Indianapolis Downs to conduct 40 days of Thoroughbred racing in 2003 "in order to receive all the net retainage on Thoroughbred simulcasting in shared markets." Commissioners approved an amended report that requires the track to race 20 days on either the turf or dirt next season, and 30 days on the dirt and/or turf in 2004.

While the commission ruled in Indianapolis Downs' favor, Indiana's newest permit holder was not without concern. Turf racing is not required for the facility to operate, but it is a condition if Indianapolis Downs is ever to operate an off-track facility in Marion County. Pull-tab machines, or video lottery terminals, must also become a reality for operators to pursue the Indianapolis market. Officials had expectations that approving turf racing was merely a formality, and have already made a $2-million investment.

"The turf track has been discussed ad nauseam," Indianapolis Downs attorney Doug Brown said. "It is unfair to change the rules in the middle of the game. We want to cooperate with the commission. If that means limited racing on dirt, we plan to do that."

The decision disappointed Hoosier Park officials, who believe Indianapolis Downs' initial request was not a significant contribution to the Thoroughbred industry in the state. In effect, the association would be making money on a product it didn't support.

"It's not fair to the other stakeholders of the industry," Hoosier Park attorney Bill Diener said.

"Eighty-five percent of the simulcast revenue comes from Thoroughbred racing, and (Indianapolis Downs) will not be making any significant contribution to breed development," Hoosier Park president and general manager Rick Moore said in a story published yesterday in the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.

The debate was contentious, but much more is at stake when the commission convenes again. Allocation of riverboat admissions tax revenue will take center stage, and Indianapolis Downs officials hinted they should receive the lion's share of the pool.

"Hoosier Park has received every single penny," Brown said. "They have had the riverboat subsidy to fund their operation. It's only fair and reasonable to request the same."