While many race meets reported increased handle since new rules on tax reporting and withholding of pari-mutuel winnings were put in place in late September, Kentucky has been an exception.
While not down as much as the Keeneland fall meet, the 2017 Churchill Downs fall meet saw its all-sources handle decline 1% compared with its 2016 fall meet to $96,613,565 according to numbers from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Churchill Downs does not release handle numbers.
The slight decline at the Churchill meet follows a Keeneland meet that was off 8.4% in all-sources handle. Before that meet, Keeneland increased takeout on most of its wagers and the Horseplayers Association of North America called on its members to boycott the meet to protest the increased pricing.
At Churchill, which offered 21 days of racing and 221 races at its fall meet in 2016 and 2017, a good part of the 1% decline could be attributed to a less-successful final Saturday of the meet when the Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod (both G2) stakes are conducted. Compared with last year, handle that day was off 9.4% to $8,039,528.
Churchill Downs' recently announced $32 million project that will significantly improve parking and transportation, prompted adjustments for some fall meet track patrons as parking areas on the west side of the track were closed for construction during all or part of the 21-day session.
"Although occasional damp and chilly weather and adjustments required by early construction work in our exciting parking and transportation project presented some hurdles for both our patrons and horsemen, our fall meet was a strong and satisfying racing and entertainment experience that has set the stage for a very exciting 2018," said Churchill Downs racetrack president Kevin Flanery. "We appreciate the patience displayed by patrons and horsemen who were affected by our ongoing construction and thank them for their support and participation in a memorable 21 days of racing and special events.
"With large numbers of promising 2-year-olds on display, our fall meet is always focused on the future. But the visible progress of our construction efforts and the launch of the countdown to next year's return of the Breeders' Cup World Championships heightened the anticipation and excitement displayed during our just-concluded meet. We join our fans, horsemen, jockeys, and residents throughout our region in looking forward to a most exciting 2018."
The track also noted that the 2016 fall meet had a fast main track every racing day and did not miss a scheduled turf race. But at this year's meet, a total of 20 races were transferred from the Matt Winn Turf Course to the main track. Those races were part of 10 racing programs, with all scheduled turf races taken off the turf on eight racing days; and two other days when one or two scheduled grass races were transferred to the main track.
Total purses paid out this year at the Churchill fall meet improved 4.3% to $10,499,772 ($47,510 per race), according to Jockey Club Information Systems. The average runners per race, 8.95, was down slightly from 9.04 last year. The track said there was a significant number of scratches from the 20 races moved from turf to dirt.
The track reported a busy meet at the claim box as 187 horses were claimed over its 21 days for a total of $3,892,500. The claiming activity resulted in $233,550 in sales tax revenue for Kentucky. For the year, a total of 472 horses were claimed during Churchill Downs' three racing meets for a total of $9,438,500. Sales tax revenue for the year totaled $566,310.
On the track, familiar faces took home championship honors, led by another dazzling performance by jockey Corey Lanerie, who guided 38 horses into the winner's circle to easily earn the title of leading rider. The riding crown for the 43-year-old Lafayette, La., native is his 15th in the past 17 meets at the Louisville track.
During the meet in which trainer Dale Romans became Churchill Downs' all-time leading trainer, another Louisville native earned the honor of being top trainer. Brad Cox edged Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen 13-12 to earn his first fall meet training crown. He had his first-ever leading trainer title at Churchill in the track's September meet. Cox saddled 55 horses that compiled a record of 13-10-4, which reflected a win rate of 24% and 49% of his runners finished in the money.
Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey continued their unprecedented run of success when four horses that carried their familiar red and white silks entered the winner's circle to provide the Nicholasville, Ky., couple with their record-extending 30th title as leading owner at Churchill.