LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Churchill Downs opened its historic gates on Friday to a rare September meet, an effort to keep top thoroughbreds to Kentucky rather than chase purses inflated by slot machine revenue in other states.
"It's a risk, but it's also a great opportunity," said Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery. "It's a great opportunity for the horsemen of Kentucky to let them know that they can be here all year round and that their families can live here and they don't have to move to other states in order to be a part of this great industry."
The racetrack is committing an average of $400,000 in purses on each of the 12 bonus racing days on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September.
"We're much more inclined to stay here," Louisville-based trainer Dale Romans said. "The more dates we have here for the money we're running -- even though the money doesn't compare with New York -- because they've gotten the subsidies. It's still a solid purse account, $400,000 a day in September when we were running for probably $100,000 at Turfway (Park). It gives an incentive to stay here and it gets the owners outside the state of Kentucky to run their horses here."
"It's really important that we have a year round circuit," Flanery said, adding that while the approval of expanded gambling in Kentucky remains a priority for Churchill Downs, the racetrack is doing everything it can absent slot machines to attract and retain customers.
"They're changing, I think, for the better," Tony Sheckles of Louisville said. "This is the horse capitol of the world and people who live here love their horses."
Romans, meanwhile, warns that without expanded gambling, Kentucky racing's long term future is a long shot - even with help from September racing.
"This is going to help but it is a 'BandAid.' We still are not able to compete with New York. We've never had to compete with Indiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania. Those places were never competition for Churchill Downs or Kentucky horses, but now they're pulling them out of here right and left to go to those places."