09/11/2012 1:05PM

Churchill Downs considering September dates request for 2013, setting up possible conflict with Turfway Park


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Churchill Downs is exploring the possibility of requesting dates for a meet next September and setting up a possible conflict with beleaguered Turfway Park, although such an option “has lots of hurdles, not just with Turfway, but how we would do it,” according to a Churchill spokesman, John Asher.

Asher said Churchill was asked to look into taking over the September dates by “some horsemen” and by members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Turfway, the northern Kentucky track that traditionally has raced in September and during four winter months, is struggling mightily to attract horses and handle, while turf-only Kentucky Downs in the southern part of the state is conducting a six-day meet through Sept. 19.

Churchill’s 2013 dates request filed recently with the commission did not include the September dates, but tracks can amend their requests as late as Oct. 1. The commission must formally assign 2013 dates no later than Nov. 1.

Turfway’s interim general manager, Lee Dillard, a longtime employee of parent company Caesars Entertainment, said Turfway “would like to” hold onto its traditional dates and that a more thorough study of the situation would be required to comment further.

With few exceptions, Kentucky dates have been the same for decades, with Churchill hosting racing for 10 to 11 weeks in the spring and 4 to 5 weeks in the fall. The addition of a permanent lighting system in 2010 has changed some ways the track has conducted its live race meets, but not its windows of dates.

Kentucky Downs substantially boosted purses for the current meet to an estimated $400,000 per program with the help of Instant Racing gaming machine revenue. The track’s president, Corey Johnsen, has said the track may apply for as many as eight September days for 2013.

Asher said in a release that “we have had some internal discussions . . . and are seriously considering how [September dates at Churchill] could benefit Kentucky’s horse industry. We look forward to continued discussions with all parties involved.”

Churchill purses typically average (combined spring and fall) more than $400,000 daily. Turfway is projected to average barely more than $100,000 per day at the current 16-day meet.

One of the two horsemen’s organizations in the state, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, is on record as supporting the move from Turfway to Churchill for September, but the other, the Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, has some initial reservations, according to Marty Maline, executive director of that horsemen’s association.

“When you first hear it, you think, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea,’ ” said Maline. “But once you sit back and think about it, there are a lot of concerns, especially how it might adversely affect [the Churchill] fall meet. The purses are propped up enough right now after the Derby in the spring and in the fall. We don’t know if horsemen would be prepared to run for considerably less than what they’re accustomed to. I don’t want to say we’re negative about this, because our board has yet to meet. We all just have to make sure we’re careful what we wish for.”

BrandonLayer More than 1 year ago
The horsemen in Kentucky are asking Churchill to do this. This isn't Churchill trying to push turfway out. Owners and trainers want to stay in Kentucky in September but they don't want to go to cheap turfway. Turfway already is open for 4 months in the winter but turfway isn't a good enough track to have prime September dates. This move will strengthen Kentucky racing. We need this move to keep more horses in Kentucky year round.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Race track owners are like shark's.When they smell the other track's bleeding they start to circle.They would love to put the other out of business.
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
I think racing should be shut down everywhere in December as an "off season". Just like every sport people, fans, workers, horses need to rest and come back for the next season. Turfway until they get slots and gaming has zero chance to succeed with Cincy getting casino's in 2012, and RD right next door getting casino type slots soon, and with Indiana Downs right their with Slots and gaming. Turfway has no chance. The bible pushers in Ky are ruining racing, The Ky Derby will be moved soon. Remember I told you, within 10 yrs if Ky dont get casinos horse racin is dead in Ky.
BrandonLayer More than 1 year ago
Not as long as we make more money in two days than most tracks make all year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Turfway is more like Aqueduct anyway, with endless winter racing, dubious quality, and little to recommend it....well, Aqueduct at least will see some slot money, for now. The point is, if they cut those dates out and focus solely on the wintertime circuit, maybe it's better for them for purses and product. Let Churchill be a fall destination meet, not unlike, if a little lower than, Belmont's fall meet.
richard resnik More than 1 year ago
Rather than spending time pursuing September dates, perhaps the Churchill Downs folks can explain how many of the Twinspires accounts were recently hacked into and no poublic announcement was made. For that matter, I do not recall seeing DRF covering this remarkable but buried story.
Joey W More than 1 year ago
I hope they consider the horseman who go from Turfway in April to River Downs and back to Turfway in September. Is Turfway going to let those horseman board and train at Turfway from Septmeber till the end of October when they reopen. I do live by Turfway and have trouble believing that they are in as much financial trouble as they say. They have to be making money on simulcast year round. And maybe Kentucky Downs could share a little of the money they are making off the VLT's since I believe they have some mutual owners. I do believe they are trying to use this situation to put pressure on law makers to push for VLT's across the state at all the race tracks. In which I do not understand what the problem is with having them. I hoped Turfway survives as their is a lot of people's lives that depend on it. Good Luck Horseman in Northern Kentucky and South West Ohio.
mikey More than 1 year ago