06/09/2010 12:00AM

Churchill boosts purses 10 percent

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Citing "strong wagering" on the Kentucky Oaks and Derby six weeks beforehand, Churchill Downs has raised overnight purses by 10 percent for the final 14 cards of its 42-day spring meet, effective with the Stephen Foster program on Saturday, track officials announced late Tuesday.

While Churchill does not usually release daily handle figures, wagering on the 13-race Derby card on May 1 was $162.7 million, up 4.3 percent over last year. Total wagering on the 12-race Oaks card on April 30 was $36 million, up 20 percent.

The new purse increase, which does not include stakes races, raises per-day purses to about $279,000, just above the $271,000 average throughout the 2009 spring meet, according to Churchill. Overnight purses at the spring meet peaked at $297,000 in 2006.

Churchill president Kevin Flanery said in the release that the three year, $1.5 million supplement to purses from the track, combined with the increases in Oaks and Derby Day wagering, "aren't long-term solutions to the problems facing Kentucky's signature industry, but at the very least they could ease the growing pressure on our horse industry as we wait for the Kentucky legislature to authorize slots at our state's tracks."

Kentucky tracks have mostly struggled while being thwarted for more than a decade in attempts to win approval of alternative gaming.