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Bitter cold chills Turfway bottom line

Monday, April 9, 2007 12:00 AM
  • General
FLORENCE, KY . . . April 9, 2007 . . . After posting increases for four straight meets, Turfway Park closed its 2007 winter/spring meet last Thursday down 16 percent in all-sources wagering on its races compared to the same period last year. On-track handle, the amount wagered on Turfway's races by fans at the track, fell 2.4 percent. The meet is the first to show a decline over a previous like period since the 2005 fall meet.

From January 1 through April 5, 2007, all-sources wagering on Turfway races totaled $166,621,869. On-track handle for the period was $8,822,975.

While average daily wagering on Turfway races from all sources slipped 3.4 percent to $2,777,031, the average daily on-track handle rose 12.3 percent to $147,050. That jump follows single-digit increases in on-track daily average in the 2006 fall meet (4.6 percent) and holiday meet (3.2 percent) and far outstrips the 9.9 percent decline in on-track daily average in the 2006 winter/spring meet from the same period in 2005.

"While the sub-freezing weather depressed our overall numbers this meet, the increases in daily average on-track handle tell us we're on the right track with our fans," said Turfway president and CEO Robert N. Elliston. "They're coming, they're learning, and gradually they're increasing their level of play."

Average daily purses rose 8.8 percent to $150,649. Field size dipped slightly from 8.3 starters per race to 8.1.

The declines in business are directly related to a string of bitterly cold days from late January to mid-February that forced the track to cancel all or part of eight racing days. During the period the track lost six complete cards, the first due to a winter storm that prevented shippers from reaching the track. Two other cards were halted after just two races. The track presented 624 races over 60 days in 2007 compared to 688 races over 69 days in 2006.

In the just completed 2007 winter/spring meet, seven horses had to be euthanized due to injuries sustained while racing. In the 2006 winter/spring meet, no horses suffered fatal injuries during racing. In the 2005 winter/spring meet, the last run on dirt, 14 horses suffered fatal injuries while racing.

"Turfway has been the industry's living laboratory for Polytrack, and its performance has been under the microscope—and rightly so," said Elliston. "Every meet we run, we learn more about it, and that knowledge will benefit every track that installs it. Last year we had a mild winter. This year we learned how extremely low temperatures affect the surface, and research goes on based on that new knowledge.

"While we continue to learn, we also continue to be pleased with Polytrack," Elliston said. "We did lose some days to bitter cold weather when several tracks canceled regardless of surface. When the temperatures moderated, however, our horsemen were able to get right back to training. Other facilities lost many more days of training as they dealt with a thawing dirt surface—a problem we remember well at Turfway.

"As for injuries, even one horse lost is too many, but no surface will ever prevent all injuries. Polytrack's contribution to reducing fatal injuries continues to impress and gratify us."

Ramseys, McGee, and Leparoux take meet titles
With 10 winners from 30 starters, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey were the meet's leading owners. In second place with six winners each were Gus Goldman, Billy Hays, David A. Ross, and Roger and Joyce Anderson.

The meet's leading trainer was Paul McGee, who saddled 17 winners from 57 starters to claim his first Turfway title. Second was Kim Hammond with 15 wins from 93 starters. Eddie Kenneally finished third with 14 wins from 36 starters.

The race for leading rider came down to the last night of the meet, with Julien Leparoux finishing with 76 wins from 308 mounts and purse earnings of $997,276. The title was the third at Turfway for Leparoux, who was the nation's Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey for 2006.

Finishing second with 75 wins from 429 mounts was apprentice Alonso Quinonez, who entered Thursday tied with Leparoux at 74. Leparoux won the closing night's third race, Quinonez won the fifth, Leparoux went one up in the ninth, and Quinonez could not answer in the 10th and final race. In third place with 70 wins was Miguel Mena, who seesawed with Quinonez for the lead through much of the meet but served a suspension the last three days.

Live racing on the Kentucky circuit now shifts in turn to Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and Ellis Park before returning to Turfway in September. Turfway remains open Wednesday through Sunday each week for simulcasting, a schedule that now includes British racing. Gates open at 11:15 a.m.

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