09/28/2009 11:00PM

Turfway wants fewer days; Ellis to race


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Turfway Park in northern Kentucky plans to ask the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to approve a reduction in 2010 live racing days, and Ellis Park has decided that it will apply for live dates in 2010, the tracks' top officials said Tuesday.

The statements by the two officials indicate that Kentucky tracks are approaching the 2010 calendar year cautiously because of concerns about declining handle, short fields, and the industry's ongoing effort to get approval from the state legislature for racetrack slot machines.

Bob Elliston, Turfway's chief executive, said that the track had not yet decided how many days it will seek to pare from next year's schedule, but he said that the cuts would likely come in January and February. Last year, Turfway requested 104 live racing dates, with 69 of those dates during a Jan. 1-April 2 meet; 22 dates from Sept. 9 to Oct. 8; and 23 dates from Nov. 29 to Dec. 31.

Dates requests from all Kentucky tracks are due by the close of business Thursday. The commission is expected to vote on the requests during a meeting Oct. 27.

Ron Geary, the owner of Ellis, said he had not yet decided how many dates to seek. Last year, Ellis requested 48 dates but went back to the commission in April to ask for approval to trim the meet to 23 days. The request was approved. Then, during the live meet, Ellis returned to the commission to ask to add five dates. That request also was approved.

Prior to Tuesday, Geary had not yet stated that he was firmly committed to running a 2010 meet, and he has contended that Ellis will close unless the legislature approves slot machines for racetracks. On Tuesday, he said that Ellis had firmly decided to submit a dates request.

"I have always said that if we make a dates request, we are in good-faith planning on running those dates," Geary said.

By law, any track request to cut days from a schedule based on the 1983 live racing calendar must be approved by the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. Marty Maline, the executive director of the KHBPA, said that Turfway had submitted a brief proposal to the horsemen for 2010 dates, but he said that he did not know the specifics of any reductions. He said that he had not yet talked to Ellis about their request.

Churchill Downs in Louisville and Keeneland in Lexington are expected to request the same race dates as in previous years.