Indiana fair circuit changes to create more opportunities

Indiana fair circuit changes to create more opportunities

January 29, 2023

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by James Platz

When the Indiana Sired Fair Circuit kicks off in the Hoosier State in June, the program will offer a different look than in previous years. The changes are part of the state’s 2023 breed development program, valued at just under $14.3 million and approved in December by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission (IHRC). The updated fair schedule places an emphasis on greater opportunities for horsemen.

“When we make changes, we’re making them based on feedback that we’re hearing. We think this is a step in the right direction to address that feedback,” Jessica Barnes, director of racing breed development for the IHRC said of changes to the fair program, which has a projected budget of $1.4 million. “I think it does provide more opportunities, and it does provide a little bit more money for those racing in that first series. I think, ultimately, it will have a positive impact on series two with the horses available and the horses that can move to Hoosier Park and fill opportunities there.”

The first series Barnes is alluding to is a set of 24 race dates spread over 14 different stops on the circuit building to the Governor’s Cup Championships, held in mid-August at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. In order to qualify for the $25,000 championships and $10,000 consolations, a horse has to make a minimum seven starts on the fair circuit. The top eight point earners with this designation compete in the championships, while horses outside the top eight with the minimum required starts race in the consolations.

One of the takeaways from last year’s fair season was that Governor’s Cup consolation races didn’t fully fill. Of the seven consolations contested (there was no sophomore colt pace due to lack of eligible horses), four of the events had five or less starters, with two walkovers.

“One of the things we saw last year were the consolations not filling or having very short fields. We wanted to look at that and try to maximize starts,” Barnes said. “One of the ideas that was discussed was moving the fair finals outside of the state fair. Ultimately, it wasn’t a popular idea. People didn’t like it, and I understand why. So, we wanted to look at how to maximize starts.”

The idea is to make the schedule as friendly as possible to horsemen, providing additional opportunities to log those critical starts and earn points toward the championship races. For instance, this year the Governor’s Cup finals are not slated the same week as Grand Circuit/Fox Stake Day at the Indiana State Fair. The card is moved back one week, giving horsemen the option to enter their horses in the Grand Circuit races.

In addition, fair racing will debut at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino for three dates — June 21-23 — as part of each night’s card. In the past, horses have stepped up to the pari-mutuel ranks sparingly due to the need to accumulate the needed fair starts. These dates will not only help director of racing Scott Peine fill the entry box, but it also gives connections an opportunity to try their young horses on the seven-eighths while collecting that valuable fair start. Stipulations require a horse to have raced in one of three prior fair stops leading into the Hoosier Park dates, and many of the same rules on the grounds apply. Barnes recognizes this could lead some to skip the round and point to the next week.

“They are going to be subject to licensing requirements, they are going to be subject to detention and all the rules that other horses are subjected to. If someone chooses not to race, they will still get their starts. We haven’t taken an opportunity away, we have added an opportunity,” she said. “Our hope is, with horsemen seeing how they can do at Hoosier Park on the bigger track, maybe there will be more horses after the Governor’s Cup Championships are over that will go to Hoosier and compete.”

In addition to the schedule changes, series one races will offer increased purses. Last year purses were raised from $3,000 to $3,500 across the board. For 2023, each division leading into the Governor’s Cup Championships will carry a $3,800 purse. The series two events, held after the championships in the month of September, will offer $3,300 purses. Series two finals have advertised purses of $7,000, a decrease from the $10,000 events last season.

While the Indiana Sires Stakes program is relatively unchanged for 2023, small adjustments were made with Breeders Crown implications in mind. Hoosier Park will play host to the Crown for the third time this fall. One week prior to eliminations, the Anderson oval will wrap up the lucrative $7.9 million sires stakes campaign with $250,000 Super Finals in each division. Traditionally contested on a single night, this season the finales for freshman trotters will take place Thursday, Oct. 12. The balance of Super Final contests is slated for Friday, Oct. 13.

“This is by design because of the way the Breeders Crown schedule is set up the following week. We wanted to make sure that the horses that could be eligible to the Breeders Crown eliminations held on Thursday the following week had the same schedule as the horses that are racing on Friday,” Barnes said. “It was a one-time scheduling thing this year. Our hope is that there are lots of Indiana horses that will move on to those races.”

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