03/06/2009 12:00AM

Track drops two stakes, trims overnight purses


A downturn in business has led to Turfway Park dropping two stakes and cutting overnight purses by 5 percent through April 2, the end of the winter-spring meet at the Florence, Ky., track.

The $50,000 Tejano Run, a 1 1/8-mile race for older horses scheduled for March 14, and the $50,000 Fairway Fun, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares on March 28, have been canceled. The five remaining races on the stakes schedule will be run March 21, Lane's End Stakes Day.

Turfway president Bob Elliston said all-sources handle was down by "just over 20 percent" at the meet, which began Jan. 1.

"This is the first reduction of purses after a condition book has been put out in my 10 years here," Elliston said. "Obviously, we're going through unprecedented economic times, but small fields and the downturn in all-sources business have been dogging us."

Indeed, it has been a dismal winter at Turfway, where riverboat casinos just across the Ohio River in Indiana have continued to cut deeply into the track's share of the local gambling dollar. There have been six full or partial cancellations at the meet, and an attempt to make up those programs proved futile when the track said it would conduct racing on the first three Mondays of March, only to quickly recant because of a lack of entries.

Also, on at least two occasions, the racing office had to hold entries open overnight after failing to attract a sufficient number. In addition, Friday and Saturday programs were supposed to be carded with 12 races, but only 10 were carded this weekend because of the entry problem.

Vitek dealing with leukemia again

There is troubling news out of Houston, where jockey Justin Vitek is undergoing a new round of chemotherapy at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in his ongoing battle with a virulent form of leukemia.

Vitek, 35, had been in remission until very recently when he fell ill. His doctors will determine within a few weeks whether he will be required to undergo a bone marrow transplant, and they are seeking a suitable donor.

Vitek, who lives in Sulfur, Ky., was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in February 2008. He mounted a comeback earlier this year and rode in one race on Feb. 14, finishing seventh aboard Model's Memo at Turfway.

Improper drug storage results in fine

Trainer Charlie Lawson has been fined $1,000 by the Turfway stewards after legal injectibles, including vitamin B-12, were found improperly stored in one of his tack rooms in the stable area.

Lawson was unaware of the situation and therefore was not suspended, according to steward Butch Becraft. A trainer since 1981, Lawson campaigns primarily at Beulah Park and River Downs on the Ohio circuit.

Esiason honored on bourbon bottle

Retired NFL quarterback and television commentator Boomer Esiason is being honored with his image on the sixth annual Maker's Mark bottles commemorating the Lane's End Stakes. Esiason will be available for autographs at Turfway on the morning of the Lane's End, March 21, from 9 to 11 a.m.

The 38th running of the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End, which drew 112 nominations, will be televised on ESPN2, along with one supporting feature, the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes.

* A series of autograph sessions for Kentucky Derby-winning jockeys had to be rescheduled when Turfway scrapped plans to race on Mondays this month. Those sessions now will be held Thursday (Chris McCarron, Mike Manganello, and Craig Perret) and March 19 (Pat Day and Steve Cauthen). Fans will receive a free commemorative poster on those days.

* Part of the annual St. Baldrick's campaign to assist ailing children and their families will be held Marcho15 in downtown Louisville, where former trainer Tom Van Berg will have his head shaved as a fundraising effort on behalf of his 4-year-old son, Tanner. Those wishing to contribute can call the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association at (502) 363-1077.

* Back-to-back allowance races anchor a nine-race Turfway program that begins at 1:10 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. The sixth race, a $26,000 allowance/optional claimer at one mile, drew seven fillies and mares, while the seventh, a $31,000 sprint for older horses, has the uncoupled Mike Maker duo of Officer Rocket and Korbyn Gold as obvious favorites in a field of six.