As well as being championship season, this time of year brings us the more mundane, yet important part of the racing season; race date allocations. While racing dates are not finalized this early, racetracks start to put in their request for racing dates, often asking for less dates than the current year which brings howls of protest from horsemen with the final allocations coming later in the year.
This year, we have a slightly different scenario playing out in the thoroughbred world out in Illinois as Churchill Downs is seeking to take Hawthorne Racecourse's lucrative spring dates to gain the dark day revenue on out of state races that Hawthorne received for the first four months of the year and make Hawthorne race only their less prosperous fall/winter meet. Of course, this is raising an outcry not only from Hawthorne but the thoroughbred horsemen. How the Illinois Racing Board (IRB) will decide this matter is unknown, after all the IRB took away harness dates from Hawthorne years ago and gave exclusivity to Balmoral and Maywood Park. For the standardbreds, how the meet will look like depends on the final disposition of the casino expansion legislation. Should the legislation be vetoed and a new bill not be approved, Maywood Park may close.
In Iowa, we will likely see the death knell for harness racing at Prairie Meadows as the standardbreds in 2012 will be racing only on the fair circuit, still being funded by Prairie Meadows. It is a sad state of affairs when someone pays you to race elsewhere. The Iowa situation should be a case study in how not to introduce standardbred racing at a racetrack as it never took hold at Prairie Meadows. Was it the track, horsemen, or a combination of the two which could be blamed for race meets that failed miserably? This is important to know should the trotters ever race at a parimutuel facility in Georgia.
In New Jersey, we will see the allocation of race dates by the tracks which they want as New Jersey law now allows tracks to set their own race dates. Will some type of detente be reached between Gural and Harrah's to coordinate some of the racing dates? Hopefully, by the time race dates are formalized, the NMRLLC and Monmouth Park's new owners will be formally licensed by the NJRC.
In New York, will we see Tioga and Vernon Downs request their typical meets or will there be some changes to the days of the week these tracks race to complement racing at the Meadowlands?
Will we be seeing one of the last race meets at Plainridge Racecourse in MA? The state is considering legislation allowing casino gambling in the state. The problem is the proposed legislation allows only three resort casinos in the state and one slot parlor; it is assumed the slot parlor will be at a racetrack, but there is some talk that the bill is being written with the idea that Suffolk Downs will be the recipient of the slot license. The future of racing at Plainridge may depend on the outcome of the legislation and the awarding of the slot license. One can only hope the bidding for the slot license will be fair.
Yes, the action on the track is what most people will be paying attention to, but there will be action off the track worth paying attention to as well.