Tuesday, March 30, 1999

Turfway wants race later

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Turfway Park officials couldn't have asked for a better day Saturday for the record-setting inaugural run of the Gallery Furniture.com Stakes.

        There will be one change, though — they intend to ask network television executives for a different starting time for next year's feature race.

        A gorgeous spring day and heavy promotion helped bring a record crowd of 21,028 to the Florence racetrack Saturday, said spokesman Damon Thayer.

        But an earlier-than-usual 2:14 p.m. start time for the $750,000 stakes race probably cost Turfway about $1 million in wagering, he said.

        “The only negative out of the whole day was that the betting handle did drop off after the big race,” Mr. Thayer said. “We had a record attendance, but if the race had been run later in the day we would have probably had a record handle as well.”

        Nearly $11 million was bet at Turfway Saturday, making it the fourth best handle — the amount of money wagered — in track history. The record handle of $12.9 million was set in 1997 at the Jim Beam Stakes. The Kentucky bourbon-maker was the previous sponsor of the race until Gallery Furniture.com, an Internet furniture store, took over the main sponsorship of this year's race.

        In years past the featured stakes race was one of the last races of the day, historically run after 4 p.m. To accommodate ABC sports and a national television audience Saturdaythe main event was the fifth race of the day out of 12.

        “We saw a drop-off, not only the people who left Turfway after the main race Saturday, but also from people who were betting at the simulcast outlets we sent the race to across the country,” Mr. Thayer said.

        Turfway officials plan to talk about ABC about moving the race back an hour or two next year.

        “If ABC can't accommodate us, we have to decide if we want to sacrifice the betting handle to get national TV coverage,” Mr. Thayer said.

        James “Mattress Mac” McIngvale, who owns the Houston-based Gallery Furniture.com, said Monday he was pleased with how the race and the day turned out.

        “It was very good. I had a lot of fun, and it sure looked like the fans did as well,” Mr. McIngvale said. “That track and the race really enjoys great support in the communi ty.”

        It will take six months to a year of sales and market research to determine whether the company's sponsorship will pay off with increased furniture sales.

        “You never really know if a sponsorship like this is going to help you sell furniture. We're trying to build up the brand name, and we sure got a lot of exposure in the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati area. But how many dollars that will mean remains to be seen,” he said.

        The company's Internet site did get a workout Saturday. So many people logged on to it the site crashed and was offline for some time.

        Turfway was sold two weeks ago by Jerry Carroll to a group that includes Harrah's, a casino operator; Dreamport Inc., the gaming and entertainment subsidiary of lottery giant GTECH Corp.; and Keeneland, the Lexington thoroughbred track.

        Dreamport Vice President Robert Vincent said Monday the company was also pleased with the race.

        “Outstanding,” he said. “It was the kind of day that exceeded our hopes. I was really impressed with the makeup of the crowd. It was very young, and not all just males. We were most encouraged by that ... because that's the kind of crowd we want to attract.”


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