Kentucky Racing on Rise With Purses, Renovations

The Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund Advisory Committee met April 5 with recommendations to increase purse funds for Kentucky-breds competing in the state.

Churchill Downs Director of finance, Henry Snyder, requested a revision to the KTDF distribution between $9.5 million to $10.5 million, which all Kentucky Horse Racing Commission members approved to move forward. The Aug. 13 race card at the Twin Spires includes races previously held at defunct Arlington International Course. Churchill Downs’ request Friday was driven by additional KTDF payments on stakes races and anticipated hikes during the fall.

Bolstered purses across the board can be attributed to the success of Derby City Gaming, Churchill Downs’ historical horse racing gaming center.

A $5.2 million surplus balance in KTDF funds is projected through the end of February and by the end of the spring meet, a surplus of approximately $7.2 million, according to Ben Huffman, racing secretary for Churchill Downs and Keeneland.

“Things are going so well. Racing in Kentucky is going great,” added Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association. “I compliment everybody who is pitching in to help make this right. Kentucky is becoming the premier place in America for racing.”

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In addition to increased purses, a revamped Churchill turf course is set to open April 30.

Kentucky Downs senior vice president Ted Nicholson requested KTDF Funds of $7.9 million to $8.5 million for her short meet in September. KTDF funds of $1 million will be transferred to Ellis Park for distribution during their 23-day summer meet. A request of $300,000 for advertising will be presented at a later date to the KHRC.

Improvements to Kentucky Downs include 40 additional stalls on the backstretch and a new pavilion will be built for horsemen. Also, fiber internet has been added to the racing office.

Kentucky Downs’ Bowling Green facility for gaming, which opened in March, has been successful, generating just shy of $40 million in handle.

In 2021 approximately $3.9 million was paid out in KTDF purses, according to Marc Estrada, site controller at Ellis Park. Ellis Park will pay KTDF purses in the range of $2.8 million for the upcoming 2022 summer meet, including the $1 million transfer of funds from Kentucky Downs.

Daily purse payouts of KTDF funds for the 2022 Ells Park meet are approximated at $115,000, covering 24 race days, a decrease from last year’s 30 race days that paid out an average of $132,000 in KTDF funds.

Plans for Ellis Park’s Owensboro extension are being finalized, and a location has been contracted along with an architect and general contractor, with a projected opening day in April or May of 2023.

Improvements to Ellis Park include widening its turf course, funded in November 2021 and due to begin imminently. Other enhancements include a retention pond, which was mandatory. Track lighting and a new receiving barn after the previous barn succumbed to a fire Aug. 21 are being implemented. The new receiving barn will be in barn 17, just behind the tack shop. Current stabling improvements include stall repairs, new limestone in the stalls, and wash racks.

“This year marks 100 years of racing at Ellis Park, and we are committed to making improvements to the facility and the Commonwealth of Kentucky and its fans that have been loyal to us for 100 years now,” Ellis Park corporate general manager Jeff Inman said . “We now have the resources to fix this place up, and we are excited and committed to making Ellis Park a successful part of the Kentucky circuit.”

Turfway Park recorded a healthy increase in betting to be up 24%. In addition to a spike in betting, stakes purses at Turfway jumped from $5 million to $10 million. The Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) card April 2 saw a handle of $7.9 million, up from $5.5 million last year.

Other improvements to the Turfway backside include five new barns with about 150 stalls, a new test barn, raising the older dormitories, and building a new two-story dormitory for horsemen that reside onsite. These renovations are on track to be complete by November 2022.

The new Turfway Park Racing and Gaming facility is set to open in September 2022, fueled by 840 HHR gaming machines that will expand to 1,500 machines.

In March, Chip Bach of Turfway Park reported that its New Racing and Gaming facility had seen consecutive months of almost $33 million for the betting handle, generated from 465 HHR machines.

Photo: Coady Photography

Racing at Turfway Park

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