Churchill Downs Wins Approval To Add September Racing
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Churchill Downs crossed the finish line a winner Tuesday in its pursuit of September racing, as Kentucky horse racing regulators awarded the track a third meet next year for the first time in its history.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved a 2013 racing calendar that sets aside 12 days of September racing at the home of the Kentucky Derby. Races will run Fridays through Sundays, and Churchill holds an option to add four Thursdays of racing if business is good.
September racing will augment the track's traditional spring and fall meets. Churchill hopes to attract big crowds and full thoroughbred fields by capitalizing on the typical good weather in September.
"We certainly hope that it's at the upper echelon of meets," said Churchill track President Kevin Flanery.
September racing dates traditionally went to Turfway Park in northern Kentucky, but the struggling suburban track in Florence grudgingly conceded those prime dates to Churchill. Turfway couldn't compete with the higher purse money Churchill can award horsemen.
"We weren't happy about it," said Chip Bach, Turfway's director of operations. "September is a fun time at our racetrack."
Flanery told reporters that daily purses will average between $200,000 and $240,000 during Churchill's September meet.
By contrast, Turfway's purses averaged $97,000 per day during its meet last month.
Kentucky racing officials hope the higher purses at Churchill will keep more horsemen stabled and racing in the Bluegrass state.
The roots of horse racing and breeding run deep in Kentucky. Despite the state's reputation as the horse capital, its tracks have struggled to compete with tracks elsewhere that supplement their purses with casino revenue. Kentucky tracks have tried for years to get approval to add slot machines, but their efforts have been stymied in the state General Assembly.
The last time Churchill offered September racing was in 1983 and 1984, when it had a handful of racing dates in the month. However, it will be the first stand-alone September racing meet at Churchill since the 1890 fall meet consisted of eight racing days.
As part of next year's racing calendar, Turfway will have its live racing schedule cut nearly in half, from 81 days this year to 47 days in 2013.
Turfway's slimmed-down 2013 schedule includes just four days of racing in February, with a track option to add four more days.
"We would love to run nine days a week if we could," Bach said. "We just have to take it one year at a time, and right now this is totally new territory for us, so we're going to have to see how the public responds to it, how the horsemen respond to it and move forward."
The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association asked that Turfway offer eight days of racing in February to give more horsemen a chance to make money during the month. Instead, the commission awarded four racing days that month and gave Turfway the option of adding four more February racing days if business justifies the addition.
"If business is going gangbusters like we anticipate, we can use those (days) to race as well," Bach said.
Turfway also has four optional days in March, when it has 11 days of racing on the schedule.