Op-Ed: Turfway Vital to Ky. Horse Racing, NKY Economic Development
The following op-ed is written by State Sen. John Schickel (R-Union)
I had a great time attending the Turfway Park groundbreaking ceremony on March 19, where I was honored to speak. As a Northern Kentucky native and a lifelong horse racing fan myself, Turfway Park holds a very special place in my heart, and it plays a huge role in our regional identity.
It has been a part of this community since the 1950s. It is rich in history, just like our state and its rich history of horse racing. Spanning three centuries, The Latonia Race Course opened in 1883 in Latonia, Kentucky, 10 miles north of the present-day track. Back in the 1920s, the track was known for racing, top horses, jockeys, and the richest purses in the entire country. It is amazing to think about, but the Latonia Derby was a bigger deal than the Kentucky Derby for years until the Great Depression hit. The Latonia track was torn down in 1939, which caused racing to disappear from Northern Kentucky for 20 years.
In 1959, the Latonia race Course was reopened in Florence. There were some financial struggles for the track for a while, but eventually, business began booming as the track expanded to winter and night races. In 1982, the track's major race, called the Spiral Stakes, gained Jim Beam's sponsorship. It propelled it to Grade III status, and it became a Kentucky Derby prep race. Two winners of the Stakes, Lil E. Tee (1992) and Animal Kingdom (2011), were also Derby winners. Jerry Carroll and other investors bought Latonia in 1986, renovated and renamed it to what we recognize today, Turfway Park. Carroll sold the property in 1999. Many people played a vital role in Turfway Park's history, but we would be remiss not to mention Mike Battaglia and his family. They are true stewards of horse racing in Northern Kentucky. An excellent article was published in the Northern Kentucky Tribune in 2015 detailing how the Battaglia name is inseparable from horse racing. The late John Battaglia served as the publicity director in the early days, and his son Mike and grandson Bret have each taken their place as staples of Turfway Park.
Thankfully, it is now owned by world-class Kentucky company Churchill Downs Incorporated after purchasing it in 2019 and announced plans to revitalize this excellent venue. Some $145 million is being invested into the renovation. Grandstands will be replaced, and a new clubhouse and gaming machines will be added. I remain excited today because I know how significant this is for our horse racing industry and as an investment in our communities.
The horse racing industry is critical to the identity of Kentucky and our future. People from across the globe want to visit our beautiful state because of this industry. With them come millions of dollars in revenue that allows us to meet the needs of our people. The horse racing industry has kept Kentuckians employed for decades, and during this difficult last year, we have lived through. These are reasons why I was so proud to sponsor Senate Bill (SB) 120, legislation to keep historical horse racing in Kentucky, and why I am thankful to have stood on the historic grounds of Turfway Park as renovations got underway on March 19. This would not have happened without the passage of SB 120. Thanks to the bipartisan efforts of the horse racing industry, its advocates, the Governor, and the legislators who supported it, the future for Kentucky horse racing is bright, and it will make Northern Kentucky’s future brighter too.
It is an honor to serve you in the Kentucky State Senate. If I can ever assist you or if you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me at 502-564-8100 or email me through my legislative profile contact form at legislature.ky.gov.
Photo from the Legislative Research Commission