12/02/2014 12:38PM

Big fields on tap as Turfway Park opens meet

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At least the fields are huge.

Turfway Park, having sunk about as low as it can go without being shuttered, opens Thursday evening with the maximum fields of 12 in all but one of nine races. There are no superstars, but horseplayers will have what they often ask for: plenty of wagering options and the promise of pricey mutuels.

“There hasn’t been racing here since the end of March, so naturally, the local horsemen are eager to be in action,” said Tyler Picklesimer, racing secretary at Turfway in northern Kentucky.

Dogged by lagging business for years now, Turfway clearly hosts a different brand of racing than what is offered at Churchill Downs and Keeneland, but it’s winter racing as Kentucky fans have come to know it. Turfway represents the final vestiges of the Polytrack era, having installed its synthetic surface in 2005, and its purpose remains clear: to safely allow horses to train and compete amid sometimes-brutal weather without the constant threat of cancellation.

Racing will be conducted four days a week at the Holiday meet that runs through Dec. 31. Unlike in prior years, there will not be racing the entire week from Christmas to New Year’s Eve, with Dec. 29 and 30 being dark.

The winter-spring meet starts Jan. 1 and runs through March 29, with the longstanding Turfway showcase, the Grade 3, $550,000 Spiral Stakes, set for March 21. Racing during those three months will be held three days a week (Friday-Sunday), with Turfway having reserved a Thursday option with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for January and February.

The first of two stakes at the holiday meet comes Saturday with the $60,000 Holiday Inaugural, a filly-mare sprint for which entries were drawn Tuesday. The purse includes $10,000 from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, a major component for purses at Turfway, particularly in maiden special weight and allowance races.

Albin Jimenez, easily the leading jockey at the winter-spring meet this year, is back, this time with top agent Jimmy McNerney in his corner. McNerney also will be offering the services of Rolando Aragon, a seven-pound apprentice in from the Chicago circuit.

Other jockeys of note include Perry Ouzts and Stewart Elliott, the veteran best known for his work with Smarty Jones. Elliott, who this year moved to a farm in Bowling Green, Ky., said through agent Jose Santos Jr. that he intends to ride the Holiday meet before perhaps moving his tack elsewhere.

Mike Maker, who has his best horses in Florida for the winter, nonetheless figures to be the dominant trainer again at Turfway this winter with 40 stalls.

Although Turfway operates using a bare-bones administrative staff compared with better days, the “Party With the Ponies” promotions featuring live music and $1 specials on Friday nights are very popular with local fans. Live music and drink specials will now be part of Saturday nights this year, too, said Picklesimer.

1971 Whippet More than 1 year ago
Lotta hate out there, eh, guys? When I lived in Florence, all I heard were the stories of the big crowds, the parties (back when Pete Rose was a regular). The race book was essentially unchanged from the late 80's, though. Those little flat screen TVs don't undo the "carpeting" in the book. The carpeting that doubles as a sponge. Still, it is horse racing. From the day With A City won the (Beam/Mattress Mac/Lane's End Stakes), the track just kept slipping. And the locals have never bet enough to keep the game going (see River Downs). And they do woof a bit. Some may remember that the first boat from Lawrenceburg charged us $9 to gamble; in the eyes of Turfway regulars, those were the good 'ol days.
tommy More than 1 year ago
Why should maker be the dominant trainer at turfway ?? Are the races going to be fixed for him to win?? Maker has the worst horses and for him to win the race needs to be fixed!! Maker's horses did not even reach 4th place in any kentucky derby, Belmont stakes, travers, del mar derby, Santa Anita derby
Mike M More than 1 year ago
Every trainer every owner is hellbent to win races they would never go for a fix on races! if that's what you think you should be rich from picking winners from Makers barn? and what makes you think the caliber of racing at Turfway is equal to the Derby or Belmont?
TRacingLifeMore More than 1 year ago
Turfway's problem is not the field sizes. It's the lack of quality fields, which makes the races less predictable.
tommy More than 1 year ago
I disagree with you! Even if they are the worst fields I can predict who will finish first as the winner and who will finish in the top 4. The only thing you have to watch for is to see if a race is fixed. I've seen races where a grade 1 horse did a track record for 1 1/8 dirt at 1:46.00 then next time out lose by 10 lengths at the same distance and surface and have the winner finish at 1:51.00
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Welcome to the State of Kentucky's answer to "toxic waste" !
Kevin Lovgren More than 1 year ago
Oh come on pal, at least it's racing. Some day , i suppose when racing is gone and all we have left are casinos you would be happy to go to Turfway. Then again maybe not. I just love racing.
Mark More than 1 year ago
Well said,sir.I'd rather win at Turfway than lose at Saratoga! To paraphrase what Rick Pitino said about the Boston Celtics "Secretariat and Seattle Slew aren't walking through that door"!