Despite numerous cancellations because of weather or track conditions, Turfway Park has registered business gains during the winter/spring meet that extends through April 1. And with live racing set to resume March 10, it appears the racing surface finally has dried out after a washed-out weekend.
Through March 8, on-track handle was up 7%, and off-track handle was up 24% compared with the 2003 winter/spring meet. That equates to $18 million more in handle on Turfway races even though the Kentucky track lost nine full programs and parts of others since the meet began Jan. 1.
The track increased Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund purse contributions for allowance and maiden special weight races by 15% effective March 10.
"It could have been an absolutely monster meet," Turfway president Bob Elliston said March 9. "I can't help but wonder, 'What if?' "
On March 5, heavy rain led the cancellation of the Friday night card after four races. On March 6, three races were held before the curtain came down. The March 7 program was canceled before it began.
Temperatures were above freezing, so there was no freeze-and-thaw, but the surface retained water. Elliston said management was caught by surprise.
"We're concerned about what happened," he said. "It was a curveball to see it retain the kind of moisture it did. We have to be able to get the surface drier quicker. We continue to work with (consultant) Joe King to find out what's happening with the material and the base.
"But the racetrack is perfect right now."
With casino legislation all but dead--at least as of the morning of March 10--good news has been hard to come by for the Kentucky racing industry. Still, Elliston cited the business gains, particularly on Friday evenings, as a bright spot.
"We're getting a lot of young people," he said. "I'd call it kind of a hip crowd, the kind of folks you'd see at trendy restaurants, bars, and casinos."
Turfway offers food and drink specials as well as $1 win, place, and show wagers on Fridays, when racing begins at 5:30 p.m. When the track switched from a 7 p.m. post time several years ago, it all but lost its dining room crowd, so the new business is welcome.
"What we've seen is that Friday night on-track wagering is averaging 40% more than the previous year," Elliston said. "They're not only coming but they're wagering, even though the per capita isn't that high."
The highlight of the winter/spring meet, the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles, is set for March 20. Four other stakes are scheduled as part of a 12-race program.