09/08/2004 11:00PM

Move to cut Ohio dates

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The Ohio racing industry is grappling with a proposal to reduce live racing dates in the state, a measure supported by racing regulators as a way to boost purses at Thoroughbred and Standardbred racetracks.

The proposal, by the Ohio State Racing Commission's new chairman, Scott Borgemenke, has not been formally developed, but at a minimum, Borgemenke said Thursday, racing dates should be cut by 20 percent. Currently, Ohio Thoroughbred tracks run about 450 days a year.

"We're becoming less and less competitive with other states," Borgemenke said, "and we need to do something to get those bottom-level claiming purses up."

Minimum racing dates for Ohio tracks are set by law, but that law can be bypassed if nine parties - all seven racetracks, the group representing Thoroughbred horsemen, and the group representing Standardbred horsemen - agree to change the minimums.

Gus George, president of the Ohio Thoroughbred Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said an informal poll over the last week showed that trainers overwhelmingly oppose the plan.

"It's so lopsided it's not even funny," George said.

"I know some members of my board are going to disagree with me, but I'm not for taking days away in Ohio," George said. "Once we give them away, we can't get them back."

Jack Hanessian, the general manager of River Downs in Cincinnati, said his track would support a reduction in racing dates. River Downs currently runs 122 live racing days, from April to Labor Day.

"We're all for improving purses, and this is maybe the only way to do it, save some other source of revenue," Hanessian said.

Michael Weiss, the general manager of Beulah Park near Cleveland, said he tentatively supports a reduction in days, but wanted to see details of the plan first. Beulah traditionally runs live race dates from mid-September until early May.

"I am definitely willing to discuss options," Weiss said. "I believe that there's too much racing in Ohio, but at the same time, we have the worst dates, and we make money running live. So I've got to see what's going to happen."

Borgemenke said he hopes to present a formal proposal for the dates reduction before the commission's next meeting, Sept. 17. The earliest the commission could act on any plan would at its Oct. 20 meeting, Borgemenke said.