Kentucky Downs is transferring $500,000 apiece to the purse accounts at Ellis Park, Churchill Downs and Keeneland in an unprecedented agreement with the Kentucky HBPA, which represents owners and trainers at the commonwealth’s five thoroughbred tracks.
“This is jaw-dropping and unparalleled in horse racing, to have one track boosting purses paid to horsemen at other tracks, especially when each track has different ownership,” said Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA. “We are proud to be working with Kentucky Downs’ visionary ownership and management to work to further strengthen racing in the commonwealth.”
The Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association negotiates contracts with the racetracks, including the percentage of wagering and other considerations that go into purses, and must approve the conditions under which money is transferred to another track’s account.
“Churchill Downs sincerely appreciates the work and leadership of the Kentucky horsemen on this transfer of purse money,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “Our partnership with our horsemen is key to the success of Churchill Downs and all Kentucky racetracks, and we look forward to strengthening Kentucky racing.”
Said Bob Elliston, Keeneland’s vice president of racing and sales: “A pillar of the Keeneland mission is the betterment of the entire horse industry and, as a major subset of that, the Kentucky racing community. We appreciate the foresight of Kentucky horsemen to allocate their purse funds to continuously elevate one of the most competitive and highest-quality racing circuits in the country.”
The purse money is available because of Kentucky Downs’ lucrative Historical Horse Racing terminals, which provide another betting product with electronic games based on the results of previously run races while remaining pari-mutuel in design.
“The tracks receiving this money for their horsemen either have, or in the case of Churchill Downs is well into the process of installing, Historical Horse Racing operations that have proven so beneficial to Kentucky Downs,” Maline said. “We already have $130,000 maiden races and $145,000 allowance races at Kentucky Downs, so it’s appropriate that some of the revenue generated for purses at Kentucky Downs beef up a need at sister tracks that are investing in a successful mechanism to increase purses as well as generating considerable tax money for the state.”
Kentucky Downs offers the highest daily purses in North America for its elite five-date all-grass meet in September. A total of $2.4 million in purse money and Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund (KTDF) supplements already was in place for Ellis Park’s meet that runs July 1 through Labor Day. That includes funding for four $100,000 grass stakes on Aug. 5 that comprise Kentucky Downs Preview Day. The additional $500,000 will be used to enhance non-stakes races across the board, with maiden races now going for $42,000, the highest ever at Ellis Park.
“While Keeneland already has very nice purses, we felt that their claiming races could use a boost, especially with the competition for those horses from other tracks in the region,” Maline said. “The money going to Churchill Downs will be used to enhance purses at its September and fall meets.
“Kentucky racing was on the ropes several years ago, but we’re on an upward trajectory with the horsemen and racetracks working together. Summer racing had been a weak link, but Ellis Park now is a vibrant, economical option for owners and trainers, and that’s keeping horses and jobs in the state, which only helps our race meets in the fall.”
Said Kentucky Downs senior vice president and general manager Ted Nicholson: “When current ownership purchased the track in 2007 from Brad Kelley, one of Mr. Kelley’s stipulations was that Kentucky Downs would be a positive force for the betterment of horse racing in the commonwealth. When purses are up at racetracks, a lot of good things fall into place.
“We’re happy that we’re in a position to lend an assist to the other racetracks. No one knows better of the needs of horsemen at each track than the Kentucky HBPA. So it’s appropriate — in addition to being their contractual right — that the HBPA leadership work with the other tracks’ managers to decide how the extra purse money is used.”
The Kentucky HBPA has worked with Kentucky Downs the prior two years to augment Ellis Park purses by a total of $3 million for the 2016 and 2017 meets. There is precedent for Kentucky Downs transferring funds to tracks besides Ellis Park. In 2012, Kentucky Downs contributed KTDF purse supplements — which can only be used on non-claiming races — ranging from $153,206 to $500,946 to the other tracks in the state.
The $1.5 million total going to Ellis, Keeneland and Churchill Downs does not involve any KTDF money and therefore has no regulatory restrictions on how it can be used for purses.