07/06/2006 11:00PM

Extra week under spires may be here to stay

Olaya (right) here winning at Gulfstream in February, has been nominated to the Locust Grove.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Since 1984, when a failed experiment by Churchill Downs had its spring meet endure deep into the summer, the traditional closing of the spring meet has come the first or second weekend of July, depending on when the calendar fell.

By custom, then, Sunday should be closing day - but it's not. The meet has been prolonged by an additional week, through next Sunday, July 16, the result of Churchill wanting to squeeze a little extra out of its classier racing brand while clipping a week off the summer meet at Ellis Park, the western Kentucky track owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

Churchill's general manager, Jim Gates, said the later date might become tradition, depending on the results of the change.

"Obviously the Churchill signal does much better than Ellis in the interstate simulcast market," said Gates. "We thought that going the extra week wouldn't dilute our live product and would still allow us to maintain a first-rate purse structure. At the same time, we thought it'd help Ellis keep its purse structure by running fewer days."

Gates said the change also was sparked partly by a highly destructive tornado that hit Ellis Park last Nov. 6. Speculation following the tornado focused on whether Ellis would ever reopen at all, but those fears were allayed by December.

"Obviously we will have time to assess whether this change has a positive or negative impact to the company," said Gates. "We'll see how everything goes.

With Ellis ending on Sept. 4, Gates said, "we'll have a month or so before we have to submit our 2007 dates request in October."

Faulty code snarled tote

The snafu and subsequent lengthy delays concerning three rolling pick threes Tuesday at Churchill apparently was caused by an improper code in the computer system, according to mutuels director Rick Smith.

Pick three payoffs on races 5-6-7, 6-7-8, and 7-8-9 were delayed until about 11 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday night, said Smith. After the problem was solved and prices calculated, payoffs were available at wagering outlets everywhere except Churchill itself. After the 11-race Tuesday card, Churchill went dark until reopening for its Friday twilight card. Payoffs on the Equibase website were updated Friday afternoon.

Smith said a code that determines when a race should be made an "all" payout for pick-three purposes was not available to tote-system computer operators when Tuesday's seventh race was switched from the turf to the main track shortly after the running of the fifth race. This was the first time since Churchill instituted a policy addressing such situations that a race had been transferred after a pick three had become live, and Smith said the tote system was not adequately prepared. Moreover, a communications gap between the computer programmers and operators exacerbated the problem, said Smith.

"We're still not exactly sure of what caused the problem, although evidently it was an improper setting in the tote system," said Smith. "Obviously we'll be better prepared for the next time the same thing comes up."

Live pick threes ending with the seventh race were declared an "all" for that race. Pick three tickets that included late scratches from the seventh and that ended with the eighth and ninth races have been declared eligible for full refunds, regardless of what other horses were used in other races.

New entry schedule at Ellis

Ellis has announced a new entry schedule for the 36-day meet that begins July 19. The track will now draw races at least 72 hours ahead of race day, abandoning the former 48-hour policy.

Brian Elmore, the new general manager at Ellis in Henderson, Ky., said the new schedule will permit greater flexibility for horsemen and fans.

Another Kentucky track, Turfway Park, also recently announced that it will draw entries farther in advance during its fall meet, which begins Sept. 6. Turfway entries will be drawn three to five days before race day.

Churchill and Keeneland still operate primarily on a 48-hour draw, with some exceptions.

Castanon gets ban

Jesus Castanon has been suspended five racing days, effective Wednesday, but as of Friday afternoon he had not informed Churchill stewards whether he will delay the penalty by filing an appeal.

Castanon was suspended for careless riding in the stretch run of the third race Tuesday. His mount, Curtain Bluff, finished second but was disqualified to third for interfering with Prayer Service.

* The only listed or graded stakes remaining at the Churchill meet is the $150,000 Locust Grove Handicap, a Grade 3 turf race for fillies and mares. The 1 1/8-mile Locust Grove will be run next Saturday. Among the notable names among the 28 nominees are Louve Royale, Olaya, Ready's Gal, Rich in Spirit, and Sweet Science.