Kentucky Downs or Churchill Downs: Who Gets Edge in Race Dates Battle?

by | 09.30.2014 | 8:40am
Kentucky Downs

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's Race Dates Committee meets at 1 p.m. today and one of the issues the panel faces is whether to approve a request from Kentucky Downs to expand its highly successful September turf festival from five to seven dates in 2015. This year's Kentucky Downs meet, with daily average purses over $1 million, saw handle soar by 24 percent with field size exceeding 10 horses per race.

Kentucky Downs purses are built on revenue from Instant Racing machines installed at the Franklin, Ky., racetrack, which draws customers from the Nashville, Tenn., market.

It's expected the Kentucky Downs request will face opposition from Churchill Downs, which is coming off a 12-day September meeting that saw reported declines in handle and purses and dwindling field size of fewer than eight horses per race.

Churchill Downs assumed the September dates in 2013 from Turfway Park in a multi-party agreement that many viewed as a positive development for Kentucky horsemen. The additional dates also helped the bottom line of Churchill Downs and its parent company, CDI, by reducing the Louisville track's year-long average daily on-track handle below a $1.2 million threshold that lowered tax rates from 3.5 percent to 1.5 percent. It also gave Churchill Downs host status on some big simulcast days that were financially beneficial to the company.

Under Kentucky law, that sub-$1.2-million average daily on-track handle also permitted Churchill Downs to increase takeout, a move designed to sustain or increase purse levels but which angered horseplayers.

All of which begs the question: Does Churchill Downs want its 12-day September meeting to be successful from a financial standpoint, or is it being used as a money-making tool for the company's bottom line?

Conversely, Kentucky Downs boasts what it claims is the lowest takeout structure in racing, a horseplayer-friendly move that, combined with large fields, makes the product one of the most attractive betting propositions of the year.

Kentucky Downs has also taken steps on integrity and safety, installing surveillance cameras in its stable area and improving its turf course and safety rail.

Which track would you favor in this battle over dates?

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