05/27/2009 11:00PM

Prairie plans fewer Thoroughbred races in 2010


The Prairie Meadows board of directors on Wednesday voted to request a reduced Thoroughbred schedule for 2010 from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

This year, Prairie Meadows will hold a 50-day Thoroughbred meet, followed by a 32-day mixed meet, with each mixed-meet card consisting of five Thoroughbred races and five Quarter Horse races. The live season will conclude with a 16-day harness session.

For 2010, Prairie Meadows will request a 56-day Thoroughbred season followed by a 30-day Quarter Horse meet, resulting in a loss of the equivalent of about 10 Thoroughbred cards while significantly increasing the number of Quarter Horse races. The harness meet would be eliminated and return to the county fair circuit.

The schedule changes are based on the recommendations of a task force formed by the Prairie Meadows Racing Committee to study ways to improve racing in the state. Several public hearings have been held to gauge community support for the proposed changes, including one last Saturday at which a number of horsemen voiced their displeasure.

Prairie Meadows is a nonprofit which distributes its revenue to the state, Polk County, and to charities. It houses a profitable casino which subsidizes purses for horse racing. Prairie Meadows's horse racing subsidy for 2008 has been estimated at approximately $20 million.

Although Thoroughbred racing's handle, both ontrack and offtrack, is consistently higher than that of the track's Quarter Horse races, Thoroughbreds run for higher purses making those races more expensive for the track to put on.

The board of directors also wants to change the weekly racing schedule to Thursday through Sunday in 2010. In recent years, racing has been conducted on Monday and Tuesday afternoons and Friday and Saturday evenings.

The changes are being proposed despite the fact that during the first 19 dates of the current Thoroughbred season, Monday and Tuesday handle has averaged over $846,000 per day, versus $270,000 per day on Friday and Saturday.

The Thursday-to-Sunday race week could be beneficial to Quarter Horse racing, as it would align Prairie Meadows cards with the schedule at Los Alamitos, the major Quarter Horse venue located in Southern California.

Although Prairie Meadows will present its changes to the Iowa commission on June 4, the commission is not expected to make a final dates decision until this fall.