04/21/2011 2:47PM

Thistledown: New owner Caesars shuffles the deck

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Thistledown begins its first meet Saturday under the direction of Caesars Entertainment. All three Ohio Thoroughbred tracks are now owned by gaming entities. Penn Gaming purchased Beulah Park last year and River Downs was purchased by Pinnacle Entertainment earlier this year.

Lee Dillard is the new general manager at Thistledown and he has implemented several changes that show a new direction for the North Randall track.

In past seasons, Thistledown has done very little little marketing or advertising but, according to Dillard, “our top priority is to promote the track.”

A new post time schedule is one of the more visible changes to the 122-day season. Dillard sought, and was granted, permission by the Ohio State Racing Commission to vary the post times on Friday and Saturday. Although post times for those two days will be 1:50 p.m. Eastern for the beginning of the meet, they will change to 2:30 or 3:15 depending on the event schedule.

“We plan to have concerts and other promotions on Fridays and make Thistledown the place to begin the weekend.” Dillard said.

On Fridays from May 27 to Sept. 2, first post will be 3:15 p.m. On the three Saturdays that comprise the Triple Crown, May 7, May 21, and June 11, and on Ohio Derby Day, June 4, first post will be 2:30 p.m. The other Saturdays in May and June will have a 3:15 p.m. post.

The new post times will be evaluated and a decision regarding the starting time of the remaining Saturday cards will made at a later date.

Dillard is optimistic about the upcoming racing season but guarded about the possibility of slot machines coming to Thistledown in the near future. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland was in favor of slot machine gaming at the state’s racetracks but current Gov. John Kasich, who took office in January, has not had much to say on the topic.

“The track itself is in absolutely fantastic shape,” he said. “We have good fields for opening day and we are feeling very good about the new season. There is nothing new to report on slot machines, we are awaiting a position from the governors office.”

Several new wagers will be unveiled this meet. A 50-cent pick four will be added to the first four races, complementing the pick four on the final four events. A 50-cent pick 5 will also be added to the wagering menu.

A 10-cent Fortune Six will be implemented this year as well. The Fortune Six is a variation on the pick six where the entire pool is only paid out when there is a single winning ticket. If multiple ticket holders select all six winners, 40 percent of the pool will be paid out to winning ticket holders and 60 percent will go towards the jackpot.

Jockey Jason Lumpkins will return to Thistledown on a full-time basis this season. The leading rider at Thistledown in 1993, and 1997-1999, Lumpkins won 11 individual meet titles before he left to ride in California for several years. After an injury in 2007, Lumpkins quit riding until 2010. Lumpkins will ride first call for trainers Tim Hamm and Joe Woodard.

The Thistledown season will once again be broken up into four short meets, named for the area tracks that became Thistledown: Summit, Thistledown, Randall, and Cranwood.

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