09/07/2010 12:42PM

Hard times as Turfway fall meet opens


FLORENCE, Ky. – They’re just skipping the Kentucky Cup for a year – hopefully. Or at least that’s the kind of happy-face spin that the folks at beleaguered Turfway Park feel compelled to put on the 16-day fall meet that begins Thursday night.

“It seems like most every industry is struggling these days,” said track president Bob Elliston, who made the painful announcement this summer that the Turfway purse structure could no longer support the once-proud Kentucky Cup series. “So you’ve just got to buck up and do what you can to create some energy and excitement at your place of business, whether it’s a restaurant, bar, or sporting venue.”

Indeed, the show goes on at Turfway, with four four-day weeks – Thursdays through Sundays – through Oct. 3 serving as live racing entertainment in Kentucky until the Keeneland fall meet. The stakes cupboard is nearly bare, with not only the Kentucky Cup being canceled for the first time since its 1994 inaugural, but the Grade 3 Turfway Park Fall Championship being the only stakes left.

“Us losing the Kentucky Cup is a reckoning of what we’ve been talking about for a long time,” said Elliston, who for years has been outspoken about Turfway being badly in need of alternative gaming. “At the end of the day, we just don’t have a purse level that’s competitive in the marketplace. It’s a reality that’s come to fruition, especially when you look at the way tracks in Indiana and Pennsylvania are benefiting from the slots.”

Purses will average about $127,000 per program, including bonuses from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, according to Turfway racing secretary Rick Leigh.

The $100,000 Turfway Fall Championship, set for Saturday, is run at 1 1/2 miles over the Polytrack surface that was installed for the 2005 fall meet and is a Win and You’re In event toward the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. Thirty-two 3-year-olds and up are nominated, with the top prospects being Coolcullen Times, Lignon’s Hero, Sligovitz, and Smarten Destiny.

Victor Lebron might well be the leading rider at a meet where Perry Ouzts, Tommy Pompell, Greta Kuntzweiler, Jimmy Lopez, and apprentice Ben Creed also will be active on a regular basis.

Turfway will be drawing entries on a 48-hours-out basis for most of the meet.