For Louisville horse racing fans, the long summer months that separate the end of the Churchill Downs’ Spring Meet and the beginning of the Keeneland Fall Meet often mean a trip to the outer edges of the Commonwealth for live racing within the state—west to Ellis Park in Henderson, KY, north to Turfway Park in Florence, KY, or south to Kentucky Downs in Franklin, KY. However, if Churchill Downs gets its wish, Louisville race fans can enjoy twelve extra days of live racing close to home.
Churchill Downs has asked the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which awards race dates, for twelve racing dates in September next year. The track plans to add four three-day weekends of racing beginning after Labor Day. Churchill officials have said that they will work around the University of Louisville home football schedule played at nearby Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium and include two nights of racing.
The request was a hot topic at Monday’s commission meeting in which the committee elected to defer its decision and hold another meeting before assigning the dates in question. By law, the committee must assign next year’s racing dates by Nov. 1.
So what’s the big deal? The September dates currently belong to the struggling Turfway Park. Turfway Park which is not far from Belterra Casino in Indiana and across the river from the new Horseshoe Casino opening next year in Cincinnati, has struggled to compete with the casinos for gambling dollars. Its new majority owners (Caesar’s Entertainment, owners of Horseshoe Casino) have not invested in the instant racing slot machines that Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park recently installed which have allowed these tracks to increase their purses.
Turfway typically offers $97,000 a day in purses during its 4-day weeks of September race dates. Churchill Downs, with the revenue from the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, can offer $240,000 a day for the September dates. Turfway officials have said that if they drop to 3 days a week in September, they could offer $135,000 a day in purses. That’s still quite a bit less than Churchill’s offer.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has a sticky situation on its hands and is guaranteed to thrill some with its decision while disappointing others.
Photo: J. Oswald