Fair Grounds officials say they got the message

Published: Aug. 26, 2014 at 8:16 AM CDT
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The Fair Grounds are getting a facelift. (FOX 8 Photo)
The Fair Grounds are getting a facelift. (FOX 8 Photo)

It's been four months since the state racing commission laid down a laundry list of conditions for the operators of the Fair Grounds to make improvements.

Many worried that the focus was elsewhere, and the city's racing tradition was suffering, but now Fair Grounds owners say the track, is on the mend.

Back in April, it was not a pretty picture.

"I've never been more disappointed in Churchill's handling of the track since they've been here,' said state racing commissioners, like Keith Babb.  Many  complained that the fair grounds owners were running the old race course, into the ground...but now, a different story.

"We continue to make headway," said Fair Grounds manager Tim Bryant. They are spending over a million dollars, to improve everything from the stables, to the turf track.

Poor drainage conditions caused a lot of turf race cancellations last year, costing horse owners thousands of dollars.

"The Fair Grounds is a major racetrack in the country and we need them to treat it as such," said Bernard Chatters, with the Horsemen's Benevolent, and Protective Association.

The track is also spending over $300,000 for new video screens, on the infield and in the paddock.

"They can show an instant replay and use it for marketing benefits," said screen vendor Jerry Coogan.

Then there's the issue of live tellers. A lot of people like placing their bets with a human being, instead of a machine.

"That's one of our goals is to have more live tellers at live racing," said Bryant.

But all is not good news. The Fair Grounds has been slapped with a class action lawsuit, filed by quarter horse owners worried about reduced purses.

" These quarter horsemen are seeking a court order, requiring half of video poker proceeds be used for the horsemen in the month of august," said Bryant.

Fair grounds officials say that could see purses for the upcoming thoroughbred racing season cut by 20%.

"I plan to sit down with everyone to try and settle this matter," said Chatters.

In spite of that lawsuit, Fair Grounds officials are confident they will have a good season when thoroughbred racing opens, the Friday before Thanksgiving.

Fair Grounds managers also say they are bringing back the live bugler, instead of the recorded track they were playing.

They have also increased their marketing budget by a third, and plan to do several twilit racing events on Friday nights with live music.

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