10/04/2016 6:08PM

Kentucky Downs stands pat with 2017 dates


The 2017 Kentucky racing calendar will look much the same as it did in 2016 under an agreement reached by the major Thoroughbred tracks in the state.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved the dates at a meeting on Tuesday with none of the usual arguing from Kentucky’s tracks over the allotments. Over the past several years, Thoroughbred tracks in the state have sparred over the late-summer schedule, but this year, the tracks involved worked out an agreement prior to submitting their dates requests, according to Corey Johnsen, the part-owner and general manager of Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., without any of the usual public back-and-forth.

“We all worked together to do what is best right now,” Johnsen said after the meeting.

Kentucky Downs has been at the heart of the previous dates discussions because of its willingness to expand its short, all-turf meet during a time when Churchill conducts its own brief September meet. But this year, Kentucky Downs requested five dates, the same number as it held this year.

Betting at Kentucky Downs this year was up 34 percent compared with last year, in large part because of the track’s large fields (10.96 average field size) and popularity among horseplayers due to its relatively low takeout rates. In addition to the short meet, the track operates hundreds of so-called “historical racing machines,” which are similar to slot machines, and revenues from the machines generates much of its purse money.

Johnsen has said that he would like to expand the meet by several dates, but he said those discussions will take place at a later date.

“We’d like to run seven or eight days eventually, but things went so well this year that we thought maybe we shouldn’t mess with success,” Johnsen said. The track’s dates next year will match up with the Thursday and Saturday schedule it ran this year.

Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., will run a 31-day summer meet, up one day from its meet this year. For the first time this year, Kentucky Downs sent some of its purse money to Ellis Park to subsidize the summer circuit’s purse structure, an arrangement that will continue in 2017, according to Johnsen and Ron Geary, the owner of the track.

Churchill Downs will run 11 dates in September next year, same as this year, but it gave up one day at the end of its summer meet so that Ellis Park can run the entire Fourth of July holiday weekend. The Fourth of July in 2017 is on a Tuesday.