Updated on 09/16/2011 8:47AM

Meet opens bucking stiff competition

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If this is December, then it must be Turfway.

A turn of the calendar page happens to coincide this year with a shift in locales on the Kentucky racing circuit - and, indeed, the only live racing in the state during the next four months will be conducted at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

Technically, the winter consists of two meets: the holiday meet, which runs Sunday through Dec. 31, and the winter-spring meet, which runs Jan. 1 to April 3. But with a seamless transition from one meet to the next, hardly anyone really notices any difference, so everyone basically settles in from Day One for the full duration.

Unfortunately, the overriding theme at Turfway continues to be one of a struggling business, one that has been operating for the last six years or so at an enormous disadvantage.

Three riverboat casinos in neighboring Indiana have become overwhelming competition for Turfway, and countless horseplayers who formerly frequented Turfway have become regulars at River Downs or other Ohio simulcast venues since that state began offering full-card racing programs a few years ago.

The result has been an incessant call from track president Bob Elliston for legal measures that would assist Turfway in fighting the ferocious competition. Elliston was among the industry officials at the forefront of the familiar slots-at-racetracks debate last year before the Kentucky legislature, a debate that he hopes will be more successful when renewed again in January, when the General Assembly reconvenes in the state capital of Frankfort.

Nonetheless, the show will go on. Average daily purses are forecast at about $165,000, according to racing secretary Rick Leigh.

The jockey colony essentially remains the same as last year's, although newcomers Jason Lumpkins and Marlon St. Julien have made plans to ride the entire winter. They join a cast that includes such familiar faces as Tony D'Amico, Dean Butler, Kris Prather, Patti Cooksey, Bill Troilo, Danny Coa, Brian Peck, Charlie Woods, Justin Vitek, and Eddie Zuniga. Among trainers, Bernie Flint again should hold the strongest hand.

The highlight of the winter stand is the Grade 2 Lane's End Spiral Stakes on March 22, a Kentucky Derby prep.

In following a similar policy enacted by Churchill Downs Inc., Turfway will close betting as soon as the first horse enters the starting gate.

Parking and admission will be free at Turfway.

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