03/22/2012 3:07PM

Turfway: On Vinery Spiral Day, all worries vanish

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FLORENCE, Ky. – Another winter of discontent is melting away at Turfway Park, where temperatures reached record highs earlier this week. Yet another legislative session went by without passage of a law or referendum that could provide for alternative gaming at Kentucky racetracks, a development that has further deepened the fiscal crisis that enshrouds this 52-year-old track.

Still, Turfway president Bob Elliston does his absolute best to put on a happy face during Vinery Spiral week, and why not? He, like everyone else, is powerless at this point to fight what he sees as a grave injustice in how politics work. Turfway slashed its purses 25 percent a few weeks ago, further impoverishing a structure already far behind comparable programs in states such as Indiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and the track’s long-term future is an uncertain one as the walls of encroaching competition in neighboring states continue to close in.

“At some point you put it all behind you and say, ‘Let’s celebrate the good things,’ and this year the Spiral is shaping up great,” said Elliston. “We kick off the NBC coverage of the Derby preps, we’ve got all these great jockeys and trainers coming in, the Spiral winner won the Derby last year, and this Saturday we’ve pretty much got the national spotlight to ourselves. The day has come together extremely well, actually.”

Turfway is owned 50-50 by Keeneland and Caesars, and Elliston said he has not been given any directives from those companies regarding future meets at Turfway.

“We’re just getting to April 1 [the end of the winter-spring meet],” he said. “After that, we’ll see. I do know one thing: I don’t hear anybody calling it a day. There’s nobody throwing their hands up in surrender. Of course it’s more difficult as the years go by and you see yourself in a deeper hole. But we’ve got Instant Racing to consider for the short-term, and we’re hoping for a shift in the political landscape in holding out hope for the long-term.

“In the meantime, we’ve got a great day of racing here Saturday to enjoy.”

Hollendorfer doesn’t believe in jinxes

Yes, Jerry Hollendorfer wants to win the Spiral with Russian Greek, even though the trainer is well aware of what happened the last two times he won the Turfway marquee event.

Hollendorfer won the 1998 running with Event of the Year, who proceeded to Churchill as one of the favorites. But in his final workout before the Derby, the colt sustained a knee fracture, a disappointment that Hollendorfer still calls one of the most bitter of his Hall of Fame career. Two years later, Hollendorfer won at Turfway with Globalize, who actually made the Derby program as a longshot but was scratched two days before the race when suffering a gash in a hind leg when kicked by a pony at Churchill.

Hollendorfer said this week he is not superstitious and doesn’t really care about what happened in those past years.

“I’d rather win than get beat a nose,” he said. “I hope I never get beat a nose again.”

Russian Greek comes favorably drawn in post 1 with Corey Nakatani to ride.

Top riders lured by big purses

The presence of so many top jockeys at Turfway on Saturday surely will draw the attention not only of local fans, but horseplayers throughout the country wondering why some of the leading riders at their tracks are somewhere else.

Money talks, of course, and with no top-drawer races being run elsewhere, the $500,000 purse for the Spiral – along with the combined purses of $225,000 for the three undercard stakes – was the primary draw for Javier Castellano, Rosie Napravnik, Joel Rosario, John Velazquez and other star jockeys making the trek here Saturday.

At least Kentucky’s not playing hoops

College basketball is a huge topic in this area, especially with many teams from throughout this region having made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Elliston said ontrack attendance might take a small hit Saturday if Cincinnati and/or Louisville made it to their regional finals on Saturday after playing Thursday night, but the fact that Xavier and Kentucky both had Friday games became a non-factor in a good way.

“We kind of dodged a bullet with Kentucky not playing Saturday,” said Elliston, himself a Big Blue fan. “They’ve got such a huge following.”

Turfway charges $10 for general admission on Spiral Day, and seating comes with an additional cost. On all other days, admission is free, and Turfway officials long have said they feel justified in charging admission for one day a year.

◗ Fans often refer to the showcase race at Turfway by a variety of names, and for good reason: sponsorship has changed quite a few times over the year. For the record, this is what the race has been called: 1972-81, Spiral Stakes; 1982-98, Jim Beam Stakes; 1999, Galleryfurniture.com Stakes; 2000-01, Turfway Spiral Stakes; 2002, Lane’s End Spiral Stakes; 2003-10, Lane’s End Stakes; 2011-12, Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes.