01/13/2010 1:00AM

New Lane's End date offers multiple benefits


Turfway Park will gladly accept any good news. In the face of another long winter and a racing schedule reduced to just three days a week, the Florence, Ky., track continues to struggle, especially as the perennial hot-button issue of slots at racetracks founders for yet another year in the Kentucky legislature.

It was in that troubling context that Turfway president Bob Elliston was all too willing to change the scheduled date for the track's signature race, the Lane's End Stakes, so that it could become part of an elite package of Kentucky Derby prep races this spring. Only six races leading into the May 1 Derby are being broadcast on major networks: the Louisiana Derby and Lane's End on March 27 (USA Network), the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial on April 3 (NBC), and the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby on April 10 (NBC).

The Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End was moved from its original date of March 20 to a week later. The race now comes five weeks before the Derby instead of six, which had been its place on the Derby trail since 2000.

"We only learned right before the holidays that this was all coming together," Elliston said. "Becoming part of the TV schedule was a big factor, although not the determining factor, in us moving the date."

The Turfway change was the last domino in what was a chain reaction of date shifts involving Derby preps. Last August, Fair Grounds announced it was moving the Louisiana Derby from its traditional date, the second Saturday in March, to March 27. Then, Gulfstream Park announced in November that it was moving its marquee race, the Florida Derby, from March 27 to March 20, partly to avoid direct conflict with the Louisiana Derby. Then, last week, Turfway made its announcement.

Elliston said that in the years the Lane's End was the only prep situated six weeks before the Derby, and ESPN televised the race, "that date worked well for us." But six weeks out, he added, "is more of a tweener date," where trainers have a difficult time deciding whether to get another prep race into their horses or go straight to the Derby without one.

"When the opportunity arose for us to become part of the TV package on March 27, it all kind of came together for us," Elliston said.

Clearly, the most conspicuous omission from the 2010 package of televised prep races is the Florida Derby.

"There was the suggestion that we switch back to the March 27 date so that we be included, but we just weren't going to switch it again," said Caton Bredar, executive producer for media development at Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach, Fla. "So, for now, the hope is that we might be able to provide NBC with some coverage that could be included the following week in the Turfway/Fair Grounds broadcast. Otherwise, HRTV will be televising our race."

Meanwhile, at Turfway, the winter-spring meet will run three days (Fridays through Sundays) through the end of February, after which a four-day schedule (Thursdays added) will ensue until the end of the meet on April 1.

Elliston said that even though Mountaineer Park in West Virginia is not racing as usual during January and February, and field size has been excellent at Turfway, racing three days a week is the right thing to do now.

"There's been some talk trying four days a week, but right now we don't see any reason to do that," he said. "For us, it's more about per-day purse levels, which we're maintaining right now."

Elliston said the practice of using a piece of equipment called a cultivator over the Polytrack surface has resulted in fewer problems. Since its installation more than four years ago, Turfway has experienced occasional problems with the Polytrack balling up and sticking to horses' hooves.

"The cultivator is allowing us to be much more responsive with the surface, which is especially important with how the weather changes as it does this time of year," Elliston said. "And from a handicapper's standpoint, it looks like the track is playing very fairly."

Pompell closing on 2,000th win

Jockey Tommy Pompell entered Friday action at Turfway on the verge of hitting the 2,000-win milestone. Pompell, whose nine wins at the winter-spring meet has him in a tie with John McKee atop the jockey standings, had ridden 1,997 winners going into the weekend.

Pompell, whose career began in 1996, rode primarily at Fairmount Park until 2005, when he began riding a circuit consisting mostly of Turfway, Hoosier Park, and Indiana Downs. The 36-year-old reinsman is a native of Tampa.

Miss Luann looks to build on her debut

The richest of 12 Friday races at Turfway is the seventh, a $22,900, first-level allowance for older fillies and mares. Pompell has the mount on one of the main contenders, Miss Luann, a 4-year-old Unbridled's Song filly who cost $375,000 as a yearling.

Miss Luann, trained by Dale Romans, won her only start, a Dec. 6 maiden race at Turfway. She was assigned the outside post in a field of six in the 5 1/2-furlong feature.

* Marlene Wigginton, who spent most of her life working on the backstretches of Kentucky racetracks, died Tuesday at age 58. Wigginton worked mostly for her brother-in-law, trainer Angel Montano. Her survivors include two sisters with racetrack ties, Judy Wigginton and Candie Baker. A funeral service is scheduled for Friday in Lanesville, Ind.