07/08/2011 4:36PM

Turfway Park's Kentucky Cup remains in limbo

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With just two months before the start of Turfway Park’s fall meet Sept. 8, no determination has been made whether the track will host its Kentucky Cup Day of stakes races.

The Kentucky Cup was canceled last year because contesting the stakes would have depleted the track’s purse account of approximately $400,000 – money that was deemed needed for declining overnight purses.

Turfway Park, in Florence, Ky., just outside the Cincinnati area, is one of the two most financially troubled Thoroughbred racetracks in Kentucky, with the other being Ellis Park, whose summer meet is underway.

Turfway’s purse levels are approximately $100,000 per day, less than those of some competing tracks in nearby states, such as Hoosier Park in Indiana, which have purses subsidized by slot machines.

If Turfway cancels the Kentucky Cup for the second straight year, it could prove the end to the series that began in 1994, and which has produced seven Breeders’ Cup winners and drawn Kentucky Derby winners Street Sense and Silver Charm to its Classic.

Per American Graded Stakes Committee rules, when a track does not contest a graded stakes race for two or more years, the race loses its graded status. And even if ultimately revived, the lack of a grade makes the race less able to attract elite horses.

When Turfway last ran the Kentucky Cup in 2009, it ran three graded races – the Grade 2 Classic, the Grade 3 Distaff, and the Grade 3 Sprint. That year, the track dropped the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies from the schedule.

Coming to a determination with horsemen on the status Kentucky Cup is “priority number one for me,” track president Bob Elliston said.

He said the track’s decision, in consultation with the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Turfway owners and trainers, will be based on the purse account, whether a sponsor can be secured, and if purse incentives from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund can be utilized for the races.

\“We’ll pull that data and have a meeting with our horsemen,” Elliston said. “We’ll lay out ‘here’s concept one and how the condition book looks with the Kentucky Cup,’ and another one without it.”

\Contractual obligations between horsemen and the track require that stakes purses cannot exceed 20 percent of its overall purses.

Kentucky HBPA Executive Director Marty Maline said Friday he was unsure it its board members would be in favor or against running the Kentucky Cup. Although a number of its board members, owners, and trainers that race in Kentucky, have run horses in the Kentucky Cup previously, he said his organization also has to consider the needs of horsemen running in lesser races.

“Even Turfway would have to recognize that without some form of sponsorship, it could be difficult to withstand a hit like that without further decreasing everyday purses,” Maline said.

Turfway’s purse account is healthier than it was last year, running a surplus of roughly $300,000 heading into the fall meet, Elliston said.

In addition to the Kentucky Cup, it has not been determined if the Grade 3 Turfway Park Fall Championship will be run this year. Although it proved a key race toward last year’s Breeders’ Cup Marathon, with Eldaafer winning both races, it was not chosen as a Win and You’re In prep by the Breeders’ Cup this year, a decision that irked Elliston.

Because it was run last year, unlike the Kentucky Cup, it would not be at risk of losing its grade if it were to go on a one-year hiatus.

Asked if he would bet on the Kentucky Cup happening this year, Elliston said, “Betting with my heart, I hope it happens.”

Proctor decides to stay in Kentucky for summer

As usual, there will be an influx of horses headed north to Saratoga in the coming weeks before that track’s meet begins July 22, with Steve Asmussen, Ken McPeek, Mike Maker, Ian Wilkes, and others notable trainers sending some of their better horses there.

Trainer Tom Proctor just won’t have a string among them. He said Friday he plans to the bulk of his stable Churchill Downs-based over the summer, shipping out to variety of racetracks, while keeping small divisions of horses at Arlington and Del Mar.

Laying low this summer will be Keertana, one of the top marathon turf mares in the country who beat the boys in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap on May 28.

After working her once in mid-June, he said he decided she needed time, and the summer seemed right for a break. He said he didn’t have a particular race planned for her return, but later speculated that “she might race in September.”

Provided she is well, her late-season goal remains the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill on Nov. 4. She was third in the race last year over the same course.