Host of the Kentucky Derby cites competition from tracks with gaming options as cause for decline

Due to a reduced number of entries and a decline in purse money earned from all wagering sources during its ongoing 2009 Spring Meet, Churchill Downs Racetrack will request permission from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to eliminate seven race days from its 2009 Spring Meet, which had been scheduled for 52 racing days between Saturday, April 25, and Sunday, July 5.  The request, which was made at the KHRC’s regularly scheduled meeting on May 12, comes on the heels of four consecutive race days in which at least one race was canceled due to small field sizes.

“With this announcement, we are now clearly seeing the impact of competing with Thoroughbred racetracks that supplement their purses with revenue from additional gaming options, such as slots and video lottery terminals,” said Bill Carstanjen, chief operating officer of Churchill Downs Incorporated.  “Our analysis shows that tracks with these enhanced purses are attracting more horses to their races.  Meanwhile, Kentucky, the cradle of our industry, is seeing a decline in field size.  Until we address this inequity, Kentucky’s horse industry will continue to suffer.”

Churchill will request that six Wednesdays (May 20; June 3, 10, 17 and 24; and July 1) and one Thursday (May 28) be eliminated from its 2009 Spring Meet schedule.

“We are disappointed that we have to make this request after a successful Kentucky Derby week,” said Carstanjen.  “The crowds we enjoyed for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, as well as Mother’s Day, illustrate clearly the passion and appreciation that Louisville has for us, and leave no doubt that Louisville is a major-league city that supports this track.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to draw enough horses to fill our race cards and remain competitive in the national wagering market, which accounts for almost 90 percent of our handle.  As a result, our wagering handle, which funds purses, has been down 20 percent outside of Oaks and Derby Days.”

Churchill will also reduce purses by $425,000 on six stakes races to help offset the lower than expected wagering levels.  Those races, including their original and revised purses, are the June 6 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (Grade III), from $150,000 to $100,000; the June 13 Jefferson Cup (GII), from $200,000 to $150,000; the June 13 Northern Dancer (GIII), from $150,000 to $100,000; the June 13 Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII), from $300,000 to $200,000; the June 13 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), from $750,000 to $600,000; and the July 4 Firecracker Handicap (GII), from $175,000 to $150,000.  The reductions in purses will not affect the grade of any of the races listed.

“Although we regret that current business conditions have forced the reduction of purses for six of our most popular and historic stakes events, we took care to avoid cutting overnight purses in an effort to soften the impact upon our Kentucky horsemen,” Carstanjen added.  “We have worked with Kentucky’s horsemen and they understand the need for these unfortunate changes.  We hope that this will assist their stables and we appreciate their continued support of Churchill Downs and Kentucky racing.”

Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875.