I have always felt pretty lucky as a racing fan. Not because I have every pick-six, trifecta, or get free coffee. Living in Kentucky allowed me to visit some of the venues where the horse is celebrated. Going to Turfway Park during the cold winter to get rolling toward the spring. Making the drive down I-75 to the boutique meets at Keeneland, or visiting the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs where the sounds of distant champions can still be heard. It always felt like a family, and every fan was welcome at the table. Well, that all may be coming to a big halt very soon.
Turfway has always ran in September, and took a break until the last Sunday in Novenber. They would continue in the bitter cold all the way until the first week in April. Keeneland kicks open the doors with Dogwoods in full bloom for 15-days in April, and returns with the fall foliage in October. Churchill held onto November, and has hosted the Breeders’ Cup many times. Then they roll out the red carpet in early May and offer the Oaks and Kentucky Derby. Ellis Park ran summer dates, and battled the heat like a real champ. So, what is all the fuss about?
Churchill Downs wants to run Friday – Saturday in September, which would all but kill Turfway Park. They wanted 12-days, but that doesn’t add up… Two days a week, and four weeks in September is not 12-days. Now, add in the undulating European track Kentucky Downs, who wants March dates, that will step on little Turfway Park again in the early spring. Another county is heard from when Ellis Park wants to get in the game and add dates that will offer up some conflict with Churchill Downs. What happened to the circuits? Why the changes?
I’ll tell you why… Instant Racing has taken Kentucky Downs to a new stratosphere in purses, and Churchill wants to utilize the lighting system for some evening action during the kickoff of football season in Louisville. Ellis is going to have Instant Racing. And they want to be another Kentucky Downs success story. No matter the choice someone is going to lose. The domino effect is in full-swing, and it looks like Turfway Park will be the goat. No final decisons have been made and the Commission has to finalize the dates for 2013 by November 1.
If you look at field size every track has felt the punch. TP has had some solid days in September this year, and after Derby Day Churchill Downs turns into the ” Home of the 6-horse field.” KyD and Ellis stand only to improve, and the only thing missing is a monkey and a football. But what about the ones who stand to lose the most?
Horsemen in Kentucky have been able to stable, ship, and run in harmony for years. There are many cheap claimers that fill the entries, and lucky for racing that River Downs in Ohio has filled in gaps by trainers shipping over for years. But, that circuit is in flux, as RD is planning to redesign the 1925 track, and morph into a full-scale racino. So, looking into the crytal ball all that I can foresee is arguing, feuding, and someone losing. First prize will be Turfway Park, who will get the boot. And the local outfits that have called this area their home for years will have to make some big changes or face extinction.
For years I have enjoyed the racing roulette wheel known as Kentucky. But things are a changin’ and there will be some fallout. The only plus that I see is that this may be an attempt to keep trainers here instead of blasting off for New York for the bigger slot fueled purses. My grandpa used to tell me there was a rule. I am not sure if it ever applied, or if it was just common sense. But only one track at a time would run, and this would allow for outfits to stay the course in Kentucky. I kinda’ like the idea. And for the tracks that want more at any cost then make your way to Turfway Park for a day. They are trying, and life-support is in place. Someone, or something, better put a halt to this madness. No track needs to lose just yet, but it appears that greed and lack of vision will change the game for years to come.