04/15/2009 12:00AM

Track on shaky ground as meet begins


CINCINNATI - River Downs begins its 85th season of racing Friday and, as is tradition, the 102-day meet will run through Labor Day, Sept. 7.

The meet's schedule came after lengthy negotiations, as track management and the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association were at odds over account-wagering revenue splits. Normally racing dates in Ohio are requested in August and allotted in September. But this agreement wasn't reached until Dec. 19.

The Ohio tracks have for years been seeking gaming to put them on a level playing field with surrounding states; Indiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania all have casino gambling. To make ends meet this year, River Downs has cut back on promotions, and the marketing and advertising budget has been significantly decreased.

River Downs general manager Jack Hanessian said the future of River Downs is in jeopardy unless the track is granted some form of gaming - possibly in conjunction with the Ohio lottery - by the Ohio general assembly.

"Something has to be done to help us or it is going to be difficult to open the doors next year," Hanessian said.

The $200,000 Cradle Stakes, the highlight of the meet, will now be sponsored by Bud Select, which will replace Miller Brewing, the sponsor of the race the past 28 years. The 1o1/16-mile Cradle offers one of the first two-turn stakes opportunities in the Midwest for 2-year-olds. The race was moved to the turf two years ago in an attempt to make it a prep for the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Turf.

The other open stakes of the meet is the $100,000 Coca Cola Bassinet. Nine Ohio-bred stakes are also scheduled.

New post times will be in effect this meet. First post on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays will be 1:20 p.m. Eastern. Sunday and Tuesday cards will begin at 2 p.m. The track is dark Mondays and Wednesdays.

River Downs will run solo live cards on Sundays and Tuesdays and 7&7 cards - where two tracks alternate races on a single outgoing simulcast signal - with Thistledown on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The only exception to this is in April when River will run 7&7 programs wth Beulah Park on Tuesdays and Saturdays.