11/28/2009 12:00AM

Turfway gets going with action-packed card


The stands aren't full, but the fields are. That's the bad news/good news situation that will open four months of winter racing at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., where the $50,000 Holiday Inaugural anchors a nine-race opening-day card Sunday.

The Turfway story remains an achingly familiar one: no slots, no good. Faced with the gloomy prospect of loyal stables abandoning Kentucky this winter until more lucrative opportunities return to the state at Keeneland in April, Turfway has resorted to an abbreviated schedule for much of the winter, having gone to three days a week in January and February and four days in March. Moreover, the way the 2009 calendar falls, there will be no racing from Dec. 21-25, although the track will run every day from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

When there is action, hopefully the cards will look a lot like the Sunday opener. Eight of the nine races drew at least 12 entries, the limit for the one-mile Polytrack surface in use at Turfway, and the seventh race drew 11.

Those sizable fields are one

positive aspect in an otherwise unsavory predicament facing Turfway officials for the better part of a decade now. With Indiana riverboat casinos and other competition for the entertainment dollar having cut dramatically into attendance and handle in recent years, Turfway's president, Bob Elliston, long has been among the most impassioned of racing officials in his pleas for legislative relief in the form of alternative gaming.

In the meantime, the show goes on. Turfway is hoping their fields will get an inadvertent assist from West Virginia, where Mountaineer Park has requested to drop winter racing from its 2010 schedule. A decision on that dates request is expected Dec. 7. Clearly, no winter racing at Mountaineer "would help us fill our races better," said Rick Leigh, the longtime racing secretary at Turfway.

The Holiday Inaugural is the first of five stakes at the holiday meet, which ends Dec. 31 and segues seamlessly into the winter-spring meet, which runs through April 1 and will be highlighted March 20 by the Grade 2 Lane's End Stakes.

The 24th running of the six-furlong Holiday Inaugural drew a very well-matched field, with the top contenders being Lady's Laughter, Nicks, Coy Cat, and School Girl.