02/02/2011 11:39AM

Saturday night racing makes return at Turfway Park

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Turfway Park has regularly conducted racing at night under the lights for much of its 50-plus years of existence. But when the WEBN Stakes and 11 other races are run Saturday, it will mark the first time in nearly 30 years for a Saturday night card at the Florence, Ky., track.

“We’ve had tremendous success on Friday nights, so we thought we’d give this a try,” said Bob Elliston, president at Turfway since 1999.

For a brief span around 1983, Turfway conducted doubleheaders on Saturdays, leaving a gap of about two hours between an afternoon and evening card. Of course, this was when the track was still known as Latonia, before Sunday racing and interstate simulcasting existed, and well before Polytrack had even been thought about.

Since racing on the Kentucky circuit shifted from Churchill Downs to Turfway in early December, racing had been conducted at least four times a week through the end of January. With the turn of the calendar to February, Turfway has moved to a three-day week through the end of the meet, April 3, with a 5:30 p.m. Eastern first post on Fridays and Saturdays and a 1:10 p.m. post on Sundays.

The first Saturday night card will feature the $50,000 WEBN Stakes, a one-mile race that occasionally produces a contender for the annual Turfway showcase race, which has been renamed the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes for this year. The Grade 3, $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes is set for March 26.

The WEBN is named for Cincinnati radio 102.7-FM, a mainstream rock station now in its 10th year of being the title sponsor for what had been known as the Presidents Stakes before 2002. WEBN and Turfway are co-hosting a party during the races, with free tickets for 2,000 people being distributed.

“We’re looking to create some enthusiasm,” Elliston said.

Elliston said the carefully considered move to Saturday nights was made for three basic reasons: to become a more enticing entertainment option for potential fans, to increase revenues in food and beverage, and to potentially boost handle.

“The Saturday simulcast calendar is very full and competitive, and you’re going against tracks like Gulfstream, Aqueduct, and Fair Grounds,” Elliston said. “By moving to a later post, we become arguably the most attractive signal on the simulcast menu in that slot.”

Meanwhile, the WEBN field is expected to include as many as 12 3-year-olds, according to stakes coordinator Tia Murphy, with the likely favorites being Banjammer and Twinspired. One hunch play, in view of what’s happening Saturday: a colt named Night Party.

One notable absentee from the WEBN lineup will be Inhisglory, winner of the last race here in the division, the Jan. 8 Turfway Prevue. Trainer Mike Stidham has opted instead for the Black Gold at Fair Grounds.

Santana moving tack back to Hawthorne

Turfway will be losing one of its hottest jockeys after Sunday, when Jozbin Santana returns to Chicago for the Hawthorne meet that starts next Friday, Feb. 11.

Into Friday action, Santana trailed only Ben Creed atop the winter-spring meet standings. Santana had 16 winners since the meet started Jan. 1, and a number of those returned big win mutuels, including $2 payoffs of $77, $59.60, $30.20, $23.80, and $22.60.

Santana has been employing Scotty Ward as his agent. Ward said he expects to begin working at Turfway for Victor Santiago, who has been based in New York for the last three years. Santiago has ridden in one race in Kentucky, winning the Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf at Churchill last fall aboard Yankee Fourtune. He won 50 races in 2010.

◗ Trainer Phil Thomas Jr., who suffered a stroke in early December while working at his Churchill barn, began speech therapy Wednesday at an outpatient facility near his Heritage Hills Farm in Finchville, Ky.

Thomas, 60, said he continues to make a steady recovery and that his three active runners are getting a brief freshening at his farm.

◗ Like most other tracks around the country, Turfway will have an earlier post time Sunday to allow fans time to get to where they’re going for the Super Bowl. First post is noon Eastern, with the last of nine races being run about 4 p.m. Kickoff is 6:30.