A Preview of the Belterra Park race meet

by Ed Meyer, track announcer

Belterra Park sits less than a 1/16th of a mile from the original site of historic River Downs. A dirt mile oval with a 6 1/2f chute and a 7/8th turf course showcases live racing excitement from April 29th – October 7th, 2021 with the first post of 12:35 pm ET. The backdrop of the Ohio River and rolling hills of Kentucky make this oval a picturesque gem of Thoroughbred racing.

Here’s are some helpful tools that will give you an idea of what to look for, and how to watch and wager on the Belterra Park races.

Belterra Dirt and Turf

Belterra Park has a one mile oval that plays kind to early speed especially during the dog days of summer. If there has been any rain in the forecast the night before or during the day, the track plays kind to stalkers and closing types. You’ll want to pay attention to announcements and updates on track conditions.

The turf has some tight turns but offers plenty of excitement as they cut the corner and turn for home on the sod. The grass plays kind to closers overall. You’ll see runners make a move into the far turn and swing out for the drive to the wire.

Perry Outz John Engelhardt photo

John Engelhardt photo

Top Belterra Jocks

John McKee is a talented rider who excels on speed and closers equally well. He was the leading rider in 2020 and won at a 24% win clip on the dirt and 13% on the sod. He is 45% ITM (in the money/top 3) with favorites at Belterra.

Perry Ouzts will turn 67 years young this year and is the 6th leading rider in history. A speed riding machine that always needs to be factored into your wagers. In 2020, he won 19% on the dirt and 21% on the grass. Overall, he is 29% ITM with an average win payoff of $8.50.

Joe Ramos is a versatile young rider who shipped over from Kentucky last year and scored 21% on the dirt and 13% on the grass. His average win payoff was $9.50.

Riders to Watch for at Belterra

Gerardo Corrales is a talented young rider who is next up on the radar for jockeys taking their game to the next level. He has been riding at Turfway Park and owns a 23% win clip and 46% ITM overall.

Sonny Leon has been doing extremely well wherever he hangs his tack. I see him making an immediate impact on the rider standings from his first mount. He is winning at a 20% clip this year and 55% ITM.

David Cabrera ships in for agent Jose Santos and scores a 13% win clip and 41% ITM. It may take a little time to gain traction to build business, but he should be fine by the first month into the meet.

Belterra Park Trainers

Larry Smith was the leading trainer of 2020 and was winning at a 17% win clip on the dirt. When he teams up with his go to rider Perry Ouzts, good things are bound to happen.

Tim Hamm is making his presence felt everywhere he saddles a horse.  He could be at Belterra today and Saratoga the next day. Anytime you see a Hamm horse coming to the paddock it deserves a good hard look before wagering. Last year he won 18% on the dirt and 31% on the greensward.

Susan Anderson is currently racing in Kentucky and must be respected when bringing a horse to the paddock. Last year she won 25% on the dirt and 8% on the turf. You’ll get good value as her average win payoff was $9.60.

Trainers to Watch

Wesley Ward when he ships over to Belterra Park. Thomas Drury is always dangerous and deserves extra consideration when riding John McKee. Eric Reed won 14% on the dirt and 20% on the turf last year from a small sampling. Keep your eyes peeled for Ron Kahles who won 23% from 40 starts last year with an average win payoff of $10.00. Michael Evans II started heating up in 2020. James Chapman is starting to rebuild his stock ready to score in Ohio.

Stakes Races / Daily Racing Schedule

For the 2021 season, there are 15 stakes featuring the Best of Ohio series on May 28th, featuring five $100,000 stakes races going to post.

Daily racing takes place Tuesday – Friday with the first post of 12:35pm and eight live races. The only exception is during the Triple Crown where racing will be conducted Wednesday – Saturday.

Racing in the Cincinnati area has a rich history. From Coney Island race track in the 1920s to historic River Downs. Belterra Park is proud to continue the long standing history of Thoroughbred racing in the Cincinnati area.

 

The Racetrack You Need to Visit

There are marquee tracks everyone wants to visit and then there’s the others.  I understand why fans make a trek to the big tracks, they showcase the best the game has to offer.  But you may be surprised what the small tracks have to showcase. Just like the rental car commercial 50 years ago. The small ovals are Avis, and the marquee venues are Hertz. Both have cars to rent, and both serve your needs. But just like the tagline in the commercial; “Avis, we try harder.”

River Downs had events like wiener dog summer nationals, boxing matches, pig races, local music festivals and baby pageants.

I’ve ventured to both in my travels. The big tracks have never failed to amaze and delight. The smaller tracks have a down-to-earth feel that wraps around you as you walk through the doors. If you’re a race track kid who tagged along with Dad or Gramps to the races. You remember the sights, the sounds, and the smells. Hoards of gamblers hunkered over racing programs as loud speakers announced minutes-to-post. Patrons would stand in lines making  wagers with the unforgettable scent of cheap cigars wafting through the air.   There was only one place in the world you could experience this melting pot of humanity.

River Downs was a little oval outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. The meet would begin in late April and end with the running of the Cradle Stakes on Labor Day.  Long ago it went by the name Coney Island Race Track; the same as the amusement park next store  The famous Seabiscuit made two appearances in 1936, and the flood of 1937 finally washed away the Coney Island oval.  The track returned under the new banner of River Downs, and the rest is a rich storied history.

Tampa Paddock

Up close and personal at the Tampa Bay Downs paddock

Larger tracks have box seating areas where you had to purchase seats in advance. River Downs had an open air grandstand where you could grab a seat where you liked.  The larger tracks had marquee riders on the way up the ladder, riding the best of the day. Smaller tracks have a colony of rough and ready riders trying to break into the game, and, sometimes, big name jockeys on their way back down.  The horses at marquee ovals are some of the best in the land where the small ovals have cheap claimers.  Both are exciting, and each has their own special charm.

River Downs had events like wiener dog summer nationals, boxing matches, pig races, local music festivals and baby pageants.   There were track logo t-shirts on Mother’s Day, and cap giveaways on Father’s Day. As I reach in my pocket there is a money clip with a race horse and rider.   It’s at least 30-years-old and was a giveaway item from the little track.

The big tracks have handicapping shows where the talent is decked out in shirt and tie and discuss the races.   River Downs had an outside set located behind a bar, and “The Regular Guy” handicapping show talked about racing from the little Ohio track.  It was for the regular folks in the grandstand who enjoyed some good handicapping info with a great deal of fun. Sometimes the best fan education involves having a good laugh to start the day.

I had the opportunity to work for River Downs. I started in the parking lot many moons ago, and 15 years later I would return as director of marketing. The smaller track was a springboard for many, and if you look back at the history of River Downs. You’ll find out the great Seabiscuit ran there twice; Steve Cauthen rode his first winner aboard Red Pipe in 1976, and in 1984 Spend A Buck won the Cradle Stakes and went on to win the Kentucky Derby.   It’s fair to say that many horseplayers and fan have good reasons to love the little track.

I’ve visited big tracks and watched marquee events captivate the world.  They will always be on my list to see and experience as they have raised the bar for others to aspire.  Small tracks have a special charm and rich history that is passed down from generation to generation.

I have a bevy of small tracks that hold a special place in my heart. Places named Beulah, Lebanon, and Louisville Downs. They have all played a part in my love affair with horse racing, and as long as they open the doors I’ll make the drive.  The days of “build it and they will come” are long gone. Racing was the stand alone heavy weight champ of betting, and there wasn’t as much competition for gambling dollar.  It seems as though we are losing these little gems in the passing years. Places like Bowie, Calder, Great Lakes Downs, and Rockingham Park just to name a few.

Do yourself a favor if you’re a racing fan. Make your next trip to a small oval, county fair, or boutique meet. I think you’ll fall in love all over again, and, before you know it, you’ll be making plans for your next trip.

 

— Ed Meyer is track announcer at Belterra Park.   He worked long stints at both River Downs and Turfway Park.