05/11/2011 3:43PM

River Downs set to open shortened meet after flood

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CINCINNATI – River Downs will begin what was supposed to be a 93-day meet Friday. The track was scheduled to open April 29, but that was before the rains came and the Ohio River flooded the racing surface, causing the 400-plus horses on the grounds at the time to be evacuated to nearby Turfway Park and to Beulah Park in Columbus. Horses were evacuated April 22 and were able to return April 29, the scheduled opening day, although the track was not opened for training until Tuesday.

The meet will now consist of 85 days of racing. As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, 643 horses were on the grounds, with that number rising by the hour. River Downs racing secretary Ed Vomacka was pleased with the progress.

“I had over 1,800 stall applications for approximately 1,100 stalls,” he said. “We had about 400 horses at Turfway Park and another 420 at Beulah, it will just take a while to physically get them all back here. I think by opening day, the barn area will be almost full.”

This is the first meet for the new management team put together by Pinnacle Entertainment, which purchased River Downs over the winter. The new general manager, Kevin Kaufman, was previously the general manager at Belterra casino, another Pinnacle Entertainment property in nearby Florence, Ind., 45 miles from downtown Cincinnati.

“I am here to make a difference,” Kaufman said. “We are looking at a fresh future, we spent over $250,000 in our marketing budget and are using our leverage with Belterra to get the word out.”

Kaufman is excited about the future of River Downs.

“We intend to raise the bar as to the quality of the facility, the quality of racing, and the quality of service at this property,” said Kaufman, whose father used to train horses at AkSarBen. “I have a great love for the sport.”

Purses have been increased by $300 a race thus far, with another $300 available if seven or more betting interests are in the post parade for a race.

Leading trainer Joe Woodard will be back to defend his training title along with Charlie Lawson, Doug Cowans, Larry Holt, Mike Rone, and Sergio Baez. New to River Downs will be Jose Corrales, second in the Beulah Park standings this spring.

The jockey colony will be about the same, with Perry Ouzts back along with Edgar Paucar, Yuri Yaranga, Sergio Figeroa, and Azael Deleon. New to the colony will be Jason Lumpkins, who is trying to return to his old form, Jose Vega, and apprentice rider Cory Orm.

Track management and the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association have agreed to cancel the two biggest events on the stakes calendar this year, the Cradle and Bassinet, to save purse money for the horsemen’s account but have the option to reinstate it in future years. The highlight of the meet will now be the $75,000 Queen City Oaks on July 16.

Post time on Fridays will be 3 p.m. this year, while first post on other racing days will be 1 p.m.