At Turfway, Lawmakers Take Pulse of Kentucky's Race Tracks
A legislative panel got a snapshot of Kentucky's horse-racing industry during a meeting Monday at Turfway Park in Florence.
"I just wanted to emphasize the importance of historical horse racing to the Commonwealth," Kentucky Racing Commission Chairman Frank Kling told members of the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations, as thoroughbred horses had their morning workout in the background.
Historical horse racing wagering, often referred to by the trademarked name Instant Racing, was first offered five years ago at Kentucky Downs in Franklin. It is now available at Ellis Park in Henderson and Red Mile in Lexington through an agreement with Keeneland, also in Lexington.
Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Board Member Mark Simendinger, a former president of Turfway, said historical horse racing helps tracks offer competitive purses, the total amount of money paid out to the owners of horses racing at a particular track.
He said that in turn encourages owners to race their horses in Kentucky. Simendinger said the average field in Kentucky is 8 and a half horses per race.
"The good news for Kentucky is it is still maintaining solid field sizes," he said.
Simendinger said Illinois, New Jersey, and California do not have historical horse racing and their tracks have felt the pinch.
"They have struggled," Simendinger said. "It is a struggle without that additional money. For us to compete it is vital for us to have the best conditions, the best purse program."
Rep. Larry Clark (D-Louisville) asked why Churchill Downs and Turfway didn't have historical racing.
Turfway Park General Manger Chip Bach, who also testified before the committee, said he couldn't speak for Churchill Downs but said historical racing may come to Turfway.
He said one of Turfway's prior owners, a publically-traded casino operator, didn't feel comfortable getting into the historical racing business because of potential lawsuits challenging its legality. He said the track's current owners, Jack Entertainment of Detroit, has no objections to historical racing – a change in philosophy that may pave the way for that form of gaming at the track.
Co-chair Rep. Dennis Keene (D-Wilder) asked how Kentucky's horse-racing industry compared to Ohio.
Simendinger said the perception that Ohio's horse-racing industry was outmaneuvering Kentucky's was false – maybe because Kentucky's horse-racing interests haven't always been good at telling their success stories.
"Ohio has always had some purse challenges," Simendinger said.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) took the opportunity of the meeting location to reminisce about Turfway's long history in Northern Kentucky. Turfway Park opened in 1959 as Latonia Race Course, he said. The track is located about 10 miles south of the original Latonia in Covington which hosted Thoroughbred racing from 1883 until it was torn down in 1939.
Thayer told the gathering he moved to Kentucky 24 years ago this week to take a job at Turfway.
"Mark (Simendinger) and (former Turfway owner) Jerry Carroll were the folks that hired me away from my job at the Maryland Jockey Club in Baltimore and brought me here in Kentucky," Thayer said. "I knew like 10 people when I moved here. I have a lot of great memories here."
After the horse-racing update, committee co-chair John Schickel (R-Union) announced that the group will hold a rare December meeting and thanked Keene for agreeing to the additional meeting.
"People that want to have legislation considered during the upcoming session are all clamoring to get on our schedule," Schickel said while explaining the need for an additional meeting. "Since Chairman Keene and I have been working together, we have really been able to get people to take these interim meeting seriously."
The additional meeting will be held on Dec. 15 in Frankfort.
-From the Legislative Research Commission
Image via Turfway Park