11/30/2010 2:07PM

Turfway opening with eye to more large fields

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At least the fields will be big. Given the increasingly difficult situation that Turfway Park faces in its slots-less existence, track president Bob Elliston is taking a glass-half-full approach.

“The good story coming out of our fall meet was that we averaged 9.8 horses a race, a nice number by any standard,” said Elliston, noting the reduced four-day-a-week schedule that Turfway undertook during its 16-day fall meet. “Maybe less really is more in terms of giving horseplayers what they want.”

Four months of winter racing gets under way Thursday evening at Turfway in Florence, Ky., where Elliston has been pleading for years for a more competitive playing field versus Indiana riverboats and tracks with slots-fueled purses in other states. Turfway has struggled mightily, but Elliston said he and his staff have little choice but to walk with heads high.

“Our team is operating with the mindset that we can’t control what we can’t control,” he said. “What we want is to put out the word that we try our very best to take care of the fans and horsemen who turn out. We have fun here, and there are other positive things to note, like the big fields that our condensed racing schedule has given us.”

Turfway will operate primarily on a four-day schedule (Thursday to Sunday) through the holiday meet, which ends Dec. 31 for accounting purposes, and through January, when the winter-spring meet ensues. The schedule then goes to three days (Friday to Sunday) in February, March, and through closing day, April 3.

As usual, the highlight will come as the weather finally begins to warm when the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes is run March 26. The Lane’s End is one of 22 stakes on a schedule that Turfway salvaged only after trimming overnight purses, which Elliston said are expected to average about $110,000 per program. The first stakes comes Saturday with the $50,000 Holiday Inaugural.

Besides some jockeys who will compete through the holiday meet before moving to Oaklawn Park, leaders of the riding colony will include the likes of Perry Ouzts, Ben Creed, Tommy Pompell, Jimmy Lopez, and Sal Gonzalez Jr.

In Sept. 2005, Turfway became the first North American track to use Polytrack as its main racing surface.