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"New Latonia Racetrack" Proposed by Churchill Downs in NKY

This story has been updated to include a statement from Turfway Park, the City of Covington, and information from NKY Tri-ED.

Horses could be racing at a track named for Latonia again.

Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) announced this week that it plans to file an application with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission requesting to host a 2020 winter thoroughbred racing meet at Churchill Downs in Louisville, while the company constructs New Latonia Racing & Gaming.

A specific location for New Latonia was not identified and a call from The River City News to CDI's corporate communications officer was not immediately returned. Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Authority (Tri-ED), which is often involved with large projects in the region, told RCN that it was unaware of any details that weren't released publicly by Churchill Downs.

As to whether the track would go up in Latonia or Covington, the City of Covington also pleaded ignorance, with a touch of optimism. “I haven’t found anybody at the city this morning who’s been approached about a $200 million track and training facility coming here, but – given the history of the old Latonia Racecourse in Covington – what an exciting possibility THAT would be," said city spokesperson Dan Hassert. "How much land do they need?”

CDI said that it would spend up to $200 million on New Latonia, which would host live and historical racing, and year-round training, with plans to host thoroughbred racing in future years.

Churchill Downs is requesting a winter race card be awarded to NKYRG, a wholly-owned subsidiary, in 2020 because, the company said, it is a critical, short-term measure to support thoroughbred racing in Kentucky, and would lead to higher purses and pari-mutuel handle. The company argued it would increase tax revenues for the state, the Thoroughbred Development Fund, the Equine Industry Program, equine drug research, and higher education.

If approved, the winter dates would ultimately be moved to New Latonia.

Turfway Park in Florence would seemingly be a competitor of New Latonia. Turfway opened in 1959 as Latonia Race Course before changing its name in 1986. The original Latonia Race Track, which operated in its namesake city which eventually became part of Covington during its operations from 1883 to 1939.

The former site of that track is now home to the Latonia Shopping Center.

Statement from Mark Dunkeson, Chief Executive Officer of JACK Entertainment, which owns Turfway Park:  ​

“Following a lengthy competitive bidding process with a number of local and national companies, JACK Entertainment has been in the process of selling Turfway Park to Hard Rock International, a renowned brand and leader in the gaming and entertainment industry across the globe, since early April.

The track submitted its annual application for the dates that have been historically been granted to Turfway Park in July of this year. Hard Rock has committed to regulators and Kentucky leaders to investing over $100 million into improving Turfway Park including the addition of historic racing machines, building race purses and significant enhancements to the racing business. Once these improvements are completed, Turfway will be an exceptional facility that is well positioned to carry on its rich history of thoroughbred racing while becoming an entertainment attraction for all of Northern Kentucky.  

We are shocked and thoroughly disappointed by Churchill Downs’ recent attack on Turfway Park, which has been a significant part of the Northern Kentucky community for over 60 years.  JACK Entertainment and Hard Rock International will jointly defend the long-standing race dates that have regularly been awarded to Turfway Park and contest the inappropriate actions of Churchill Downs and their attempt to disrupt the Northern Kentucky racing community. 

Churchill Downs’ purported plan to relocate the 2020 winter racing dates to Louisville serves only the best interests of Churchill Downs as part of their desire to restrict competition within the Kentucky racing market for their own financial gain by interfering with the Turfway sale and blocking the Turfway enhancements without regard for the economic opportunity for Florence and Boone County or the traditional racing circuit. 

In addition to being a mainstay of the Kentucky racing circuit, Turfway Park’s racing surface is specifically designed to run during the winter months and provides one of the safest environments for our human and equine athletes.”

“Churchill Downs is stepping up to protect and grow Kentucky’s thoroughbred racing circuit,” said Kevin Flanery, president of CDRT, in a news release. “Our willingness to make a sizeable investment in the neglected northern Kentucky market is our latest effort to improve Kentucky’s valuable horse racing and agriculture industries.”

Phase one of the proposed New Latonia facility represents an up to $150 million economic development project for Northern Kentucky anticipated to create nearly 400 direct full- and part-time equivalent positions and an estimated 800 direct construction jobs, the company said in a news release.

The first phase would include up to 1,500 historical racing machines, a clubhouse, food and beverage venues, a one-mile synthetic main race track, inner dirt track, and stabling facilities.

Phase two could include the addition of a hotel with an incremental investment of up to $50 million, the company said.

“Just as Derby City Gaming’s historical racing machines have supercharged purses at Churchill Downs Racetrack, we plan to do the same for Northern Kentucky’s racing fans at New Latonia,” said Flanery. “Our goal is to deliver an ultra-competitive racing product with more entries and high-quality horses that appeal to bettors and horseplayers nationwide.”

This story may be updated.

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Churchill Downs in Louisville (via Wiki Commons)

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