FLORENCE, Ky. (Nov. 26, 2019) – While construction of Turfway Park’s new facility won’t begin until the spring of 2020, changes that herald a bright future for the Northern Kentucky Thoroughbred racetrack are already evident as it opens its 44th holiday meet Dec. 4. The changes result from Churchill Downs Inc.’s purchase of Turfway in mid-October.
Most notably, purses for the 16-day holiday meet essentially double last year’s, averaging $204,812 a day (includes Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund monies). Maiden special weight races offer $46,000, with allowance optional claiming purses ranging from $48,000 to $52,000.
“Restoring Turfway Park to its former glory with first-class wintertime racing is important for the entire Kentucky horse racing circuit,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack. “Churchill Downs Incorporated is thrilled to welcome Turfway Park into our racing family and to invest in the development of northern Kentucky’s first historical racing machine facility, which will increase purses and help strengthen the racing product. Horsemen and horseplayers nationwide will appreciate and directly benefit from Turfway’s renaissance as more high-quality horses remain in Kentucky year-round and produce a compelling and competitive racing product.”
“It’s been an exciting whirlwind of activity around here since the acquisition,” said Turfway Park general manager Daniel ‘Chip’ Bach. “Churchill Downs acted immediately not only to significantly improve our racing product but also to implement improvements for our resident horsemen and our players. Those groups, as well as our employees, have been very patient. It’s immensely satisfying to see their patience rewarded under our new ownership.”
Rewards for players include some of the lowest takeout rates on exotic bets in the country and one popular new wager. The addition is the 20-cent Single 6, a jackpot-type Pick 6 that pays out its entire pool only if a single ticket has all six winners; multiple winners split a portion of the pool and the rest carries over to the next race day. Takeout on the Single 6 is 15%. Takeout on the 50-cent Pick 5 is also 15%, down from 22%. Takeout on the 50-cent Pick 4 remains at 14%.
The jump in purses has drawn appreciation from top national trainers who have stabled at Turfway for years, including Mike Maker and Wesley Ward, and attention from others such as Steve Asmussen, returning after many years, and Anthony Quartarolo, who will stable here for the first time. Among notable regional trainers, Rey Hernandez and Don Campbell are new to stabling at Turfway, while Matt Kordenbrock, Olivo Inirio and Dee Poulos are among those returning after an absence. Regional standouts who consistently have stabled at Turfway also return, including Mike Lauer, Cipriano Contreras, Genero Garcia, Susan Anderson, Doug Cowans, Jeff Greenhill and the nation’s leading female trainer by wins, Kim Hammond.
Jockeys back after an absence include six-time Turfway meet leader Albin Jimenez and previous meet leaders Jon Court and Miguel Mena. Meet leaders Rodney Prescott, Malcolm Franklin and John McKee will continue to ride at Turfway, joined by Robby Albarado, who won the 2017 Bourbonette Oaks (G3) on his most recent foray to Turfway; Channing Hill, who last rode at Turfway in 2018; Corey Lanerie, absent since 2016; and rising star Declan Cannon.
Highlighting the meet are two black-type stakes, the Holiday Inaugural for fillies and mares on Dec. 6 and the Prairie Bayou on Dec. 31. Including KTDF support, each offers a $75,000 purse.
While changes mark the meet, one tradition holds steady: Dollar Fridays, featuring live local rock bands and $1 draft beer, hot dogs and bets. Fan-favorite rockers Naked Karate Girls take the stage on the first Dollar Friday, Dec. 6, with Doghouse, The Menus and 4th Day Echo to follow.
The holiday meet runs Wednesday through Saturday through Dec. 31, with eight races daily. First post is 6:15 p.m. except the Tuesday of New Year’s Eve, when racing begins at 1:10 p.m. Turfway’s live season then continues without interruption from Jan. 1 through March 28, the winter/spring meet. Admission and parking are free every day.
Churchill Downs Inc. purchased Turfway Park from Hard Rock International, which in April 2019 had bought the track from JACK Entertainment as part of a package that included a Cincinnati casino. Churchill Downs Inc. plans to demolish the existing grandstand, built in 1959, and replace it with a new facility to include historical racing machines.