- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Jockeying over racing dates between Churchill Downs and Kentucky Downs stretched closer toward a Nov. 1 deadline, and horse racing regulators warned Tuesday they’ll step in to settle the dispute if necessary.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s executive director, John T. Ward, met privately with the top executives of both tracks seeking an agreement on racing dates for September 2015.

The participants emerged without a deal, preventing a racing commission panel from making recommendations Tuesday. Ward reported “movement” in the talks but wouldn’t handicap chances for a deal.

“There was a consensus in the room that they needed more time to talk about it, about the dates issue and how not to hurt each other’s business and come to some kind of a resolution,” Ward told reporters.

The full racing commission must award 2015 racing dates by Nov. 1 under state law.

Commission Chairman Bob Beck urged a compromise. If the tracks remain at odds, he said, the full commission would settle the matter.

“I’m not sure anybody will like it, but it’s our obligation to do that if no decision is reached,” said Beck, who also heads the commission’s race dates committee.

The full racing commission is scheduled to meet Oct. 21.

Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnson called Tuesday’s negotiating session “communicative and cordial” and said he looked forward to more talks, but declined further comment.

Churchill Downs track President Kevin Flanery left without speaking to reporters.

Churchill executives have raised concerns about the viability of the Louisville track’s September racing schedule if the two tracks continue to have overlapping racing dates.

Churchill, home of the Kentucky Derby in May, has had 12 days of September racing the last two years. Some of those dates coincided with racing at Kentucky Downs in Franklin near the Tennessee border.

Kentucky Downs’ request for September racing days next year includes three dates that would conflict with Churchill racing the same day. Kentucky Downs has seen wagering and field sizes go up at its track, where revenues from the slot-like Instant Racing game have boosted purses.

Churchill says its concerns about overlapping racing days stem from smaller foal crops that have reduced the availability of thoroughbreds. Smaller field sizes can hurt wagering totals.

Ward said the limited pool of racehorses is the “driving issue” in the jostling over racing dates.

“Five years ago, we had all the horse inventories we needed,” he said. “We could run three race meets a day.”

But for the next few years, he added: “We’re looking at declining horse populations and we’ve got to be able … to use the inventory we have in a prudent way to make sure that we full fields and good purses.”

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