Churchill Downs Inc. license to operate the Fair Grounds conditionally extended for another year _lowres

Photo provided by Hodges Photography Albano, with jockey Kerwin Clark aboard, wins the Sugar Bowl Overnight Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Dec. 21.

Churchill Downs Inc.’s license to operate the Fair Grounds was conditionally extended for another year by the Louisiana Racing Commission after promises were extracted to improve several areas of the operation.

The vote also approved 80 racing dates for 2014-15, down four from this past year. It came a week after the group had deferred renewing CDI’s rolling 10-year license to give the track’s owners time to present a definitive plan.

“I think we received a message loud and clear from the racing commission today,” Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant said. “We appreciate the commission working through this with us and I’m confident that we can work on the conditions.”

Among other things, CDI, which has owned the Fair Grounds since 2004, agreed to spend up to $690,000 to replace the infield draining system. Although that work would not be done until 2015 if lesser repairs did not work.

CDI also agreed to install a new video board for the infield, improve service areas such as having more live tellers and have more diligent maintenance of the tote machines and TVs in the off-track betting parlors, increase marketing areas promoting racing and improving conditions in the barn area.

The move came after several months of criticism, especially from the state’s horsemen, that the CDI had neglected the racing in favor of its slots and video poker operations, both at the track and at the OTBs.

“I think that we told them that the casino doesn’t first; racing comes first,” commission member Dion Young said. “Or at least they should be equal partners.

“I think they spent more money with the casino operations and they’ve let the racetrack problems slide. And when you lose clientele, it’s hard to get them back.”

At last week’s meeting, Bryant reported a 12 percent drop in handle from the 2012-13 meet. As a result purses for several stakes races were reduced and four were cancelled outright. Later in the meet, purses for all non-stakes and allowance races were reduced by 10 percent.