Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”
It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge. After all, someone has to do it, right?
And, it didn’t take long for us to find a few pounds of, well, manure. Here is our FIFTH EDITION:
Keeneland & Churchill Downs Deserve Some Love:
Can you imagine the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky without Keeneland and Churchill Downs?
Seriously, just think about it for a second.
What if Keeneland – the world’s most renown auction house of Thoroughbreds and one of the most scenic racing venues in all the world – suddenly stopped hosting its annual Spring and Fall race meets and halted the running of races?
What if Churchill Downs – the historic home of the world’s most noted race, the Kentucky Derby – just wasn’t here any more?
Have you thought what would become of the Thoroughbred industry in the Commonwealth? What would it mean to racing in this state? What would be the impact on the world’s most famous breeding operations and stallion farms?
What would it do to the annual yearling sales, and the breeding stock sales?
What would be the overall negative impact on the economy of the Commonwealth? What would it do to tourism dollars? What would it do to the city of Lexington and the emerging metroplex of Louisville?
I don’t think many people in the horse industry think about it much. I don’t think many people outside of the horse industry think about it at all. Maybe because they don’t think it will ever happen. Maybe because they think history doesn’t mean anything any more, and historic institutions just exist forever. Maybe because they don’t give a damn.
But it is sad, really. Sad that we take such things for granted. Sad that we expect so much, but give so little. Sad that we take, and rarely give.
Yet, as we near this time of Thanksgiving, I, for one, give thanks to both Keeneland and Churchill Downs. And, I think everyone who loves the sport; every single person who cherishes that day at the races; all who make a living in the horse industry; each and every one of us who call ourselves Kentuckians should take a moment to recognize all the good these two tracks do and what they mean to OUR Commonwealth.
Just for the sake of argument, let’s note a few of their accomplishments just this year, why don’t we:
- On the first Saturday in May, Churchill Downs hosted the 143rd Kentucky Derby. One. Hundred. Forty. Third. Despite cool weather and rainy conditions, the track hosted 158,070 people on Derby Day alone. That is about 47,000 more people that attended the Michigan-Penn State college football game this fall – which was an all-time record. And, Churchill Downs did that after having over 100,000 people show up just 24 hours earlier for the Kentucky Oaks. And, Churchill Downs did that after having another huge crowd on Thursday, which is now known, for some reason, as “Thurby.” If that isn’t impressive enough, it is estimated that 16.5 MILLION people watched the NBC telecast. Multiply our state’s entire population by 4.5 times and that’s how many people watched us that day.
- This April and October, The Keeneland Association conducted its annual race meets at Keeneland – which it has done annually since 1936. That is 81 straight years. The 15-day Spring meeting is one of the richest in all of North America, and hosts 15 Graded Stakes events. They lynchpin is the G2 Blue Grass Stakes, which was won for the very first time by a maiden – the ill-fated Irap, who went on to win both the Ohio and Indiana Derbies before sustaining an injury that ultimately took his life. The 17-day Fall meet features 17 Graded Stakes races, six of which are Grade 1 events. Arguably, no other track in the world has more or better prep races for the Breeders’ Cup Championships than the ones hosted in Lexington.
- As soon as the Spring/Summer meet at Churchill Downs concluded the end of June, construction crews immediately began work on additions to the grandstands and building new suites in the final turn. The track, which was purchasing land adjacent to it for the past few years, hired additional construction companies to begin work on new parking areas; landscaping plots; an other amenities. Churchill was spending millions, reinvesting in the city and the track. On Oct. 31, 2017, the track announced that it would be spending over $32 million on new entrance, parking and other amenities.
- Throughout this year, Keeneland has constantly made improvements to its beautiful grounds; its’ historic grandstands and clubhouse; and it’s racetrack surface. Without a single doubt, the Keeneland main dirt surface – which was restored in the summer of 2014 and refurbished each year since – is now considered the most honest, safest and best running surface in the world. Bar none.
The list could go on and on. But rarely does the credit. Or any applause. Especially from those of us who love this industry so.
In fact, one day during this Fall’s race meet at Keeneland, I asked a certain trainer how it felt to win a Stakes at one of the best, most historic racing venues in the world.
The reply was astounding to me.
“I won more purse money winning a Maiden Special Weight at Kentucky Downs than I did winning a Graded Stakes at Keeneland.”
I won’t reveal the person who said that. I don’t think it would do them much good. But it does reveal a lot about the times. Truthfully, it shows how little people care about anything other than just pure money, and it demonstrates how shortsightedness is so prevalent in our society.
And, I find it interesting, and more than a bit humorous that so many people have suddenly decided that Kentucky Downs has become the salvation of Kentucky Thoroughbred racing, and yet remain deftly quiet when an out-of-state group (I use that word “group” loosely) calls for a betting boycott of one of America’s most historic race meetings. (I will write more about that on another day.)
You know little Kentucky Downs — the county fair track near Nashville where annually they take a pasture and turn it into a racetrack for 5 full days of racing. (That’s assuming that track officials don’t cancel a day here or there due to rain, which easily turn the hills and dales that into a real life equine skating party.)
After all, unless something radical has happened since the last time I drove past the place, the track doesn’t have a dirt track. The track doesn’t have a training facility. The track doesn’t have barns and a stable area that can house horses in-training. And, the track doesn’t allow trainers to use the course for any purpose other than to race over for those whopping 5 days.
But if you listen to some people these days, it is a wonder that Kentucky racing has survived – much less thrived despite high obstacles — all these many years without the presence of those 5 racing dates.
Oh yeah, they do have those historic racing machines. And, as a result, the track has been able to give away purse money of extraordinary high levels and attract both horses and horsemen and horsewomen from all over North America to compete.
In 2017, Kentucky Downs paid out a record $8,619,000 in purses and funds made available through the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. That amounts to an average daily purse distribution of $1,723,800 for its’ five-day meet, which the track proudly claims as the highest average in North America.
In addition, Kentucky Downs transferred $1,650,000 in purses and KTDF monies over to Ellis Park to assist in that track’s purse allotments.
So, truth be known, Kentucky Downs was responsible for $10,269,000 in purse money to support the Kentucky Thoroughbred racing circuit.
Great job. Great addition. Wonderful 5 days. Way to go.
Maybe someday you will use some of that hard-earned money that you keep from the machines and grow up to be a real racetrack, with a stable area; with a dirt race track; with a training facility. Maybe someday you will invest enough to join the ranks of Keeneland and Churchill Downs.
Until then, just consider:
In 2015, Keeneland distributed $20,554,746 in purses. In 2016, Keeneland added nearly a million more, and gave out $21,473,079. This year, Keeneland handed out over a million more – again – at $22,514,526.
That’s nearly THREE TIMES MORE than what Kentucky Downs paid out in 2017 at its little track.
If Keeneland only ran 5 days a year? Well, it would AVERAGE $4,502,905 PER DAY.
And, what if Keeneland closed down its barn area and two racetracks to year-round training? How much money would that save the track per year? They could plow that money into purses, too, rather than plow a racetrack, right?
What if Churchill Downs only raced 5 days a year, and closed down its barn area and racetrack to year-round training?
In 2015, Churchill Downs ran 70 race dates in Kentucky – more than any other racing jurisdiction in the Commonwwealth and well over half of the dates held in the entire state by the other racetracks combined.
Over that time, the Louisville track distributed $33,078,864 in purses.
The next year, 2016, was even better. The track ran its’ 70 days again, and gave out nearly $1 million more at 33,909,147 in purses.
Again, that’s over THREE TIMES MORE than what Kentucky Downs paid out in 2017 at its’ little track.
And, if Churchill Downs ran only 5 days a year. Well, it would AVERAGE $6,781,829 PER DAY.
This year, 2017, is not over yet for Churchill Downs. The track will conclude its’ live racing at the end of this month. But guess what? Total purses will be up again. To a new all-time high mark.
Seems to me that there is no racing in Kentucky without the great names of and the great racing of both Keeneland and Churchill Downs. Right?
Maybe, when you take in all the history; all the economics; all the tourism; all the training days made available; all the amenities that allow horsemen to stable here nearly year-round; and all the purses, you will see who really does carry the industry on their collective backs.
After all, without Keeneland and Churchill Downs there would be no Thoroughbred racing in this Commonwealth. None worth mentioning. None worth watching. None.
Maybe the Kentucky Racing Commission should consider all that when deciding on race dates; and, perhaps someday, consider that when it receives new applications to open new racetracks. Right?
Maybe KEEP – the Kentucky Equine Education Project – should recognize that when it decides to have its next Conference. Right?
Maybe we all should give Thanks to having two of the best racing institutions in the whole wide world right here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Right?
Let’s hope so.
Does The Lexington Herald-Leader Cover The Thoroughbred Industry Any More?
Back in 1978, when I got the opportunity to join the sports staff at The Lexington Herald-Leader there was a general rule that came down from on high. Well, since the Sports Department was on the top floor of the old, dilapidated building that used to occupy the parking lot that resides there now behind the old Courthouse building downtown, the order came from a couple of floors below. But you never doubted from whence it came. It came from those that paid your check.
It didn’t matter the day. It didn’t matter the month. Every single day, there had to be a picture of a Thoroughbred on the front page of the Sports Section. Every. Single. Day.
That wasn’t easy to do on some days, mind you. In the midst of one of the most harsh and unrelenting winters in the history of the Commonwealth, there were times when we simply didn’t have a newsworthy story, or picture, for that matter.
So, on some occasions, we would just take the same picture that ran the day before, and flip the negative. D. G. Fitzmaurice, our lead columnist at the time, would always laugh and say that we were just running the “European version” of the same race.
I don’t know how many people noticed that “photo finish” touch-up, but there was a recognition by the people that ran the paper back then that the horse industry was important to the city; to the community; to the region; to the state. And, as a result, the horse industry was important to the newspaper.
There was a writer dedicated to covering the industry — year round. A few years later, the paper hired another writer to cover the sales auctions and write about the business aspects of the industry. There were two full-time writers on staff to do nothing else. Plus, during the race meets we hired Mike Bataglia to write a daily handicapping piece on each race, with selections, and we added another sportswriter to cover the daily races at Keeneland.
Normally, that last guy was me. No matter what the assignment, I loved it. The best job in America.
And, of course, there was Frank Phelps, who always updated the weekend Stakes winners and wrote a yearly column wondering why a Thoroughbred wasn’t in the Christmas Story or part of every manger scene.
There was a bevy of photographers who routinely were sent on assignment to upgrade the depth and quality of our equine photo library. There was E. Martin Jesse, and Frank Anderson. There was Ron Garrison and Charlie Bertram. There were plenty of others, too.
It was a great team that provided newspaper coverage of the Thoroughbred industry like no other news organization in the world. Bar none. Or so we thought, any way.
I know that newspapers aren’t what they used to be. But today’s version The Lexington Herald-Leader is a joke. And, the paper’s coverage of the industry may be no laughing matter, but it has becoming a laughing stock.
Despite the fact that the “paper” regularly still sends three reporters and a host of photographers to cover the University of Kentucky sporting events (check out the extensive and comprehensive play-by-play coverage of the riveting Kentucky multi-point victory over powerhouse Vanderbilt this weekend), the paper did not send one person to cover the Breeders’ Cup. Again. Not a reporter. Not a columnist. No one. Not one single person wrote one single thing. Embarrassing. Just embarrassing.
Despite the fact that Thoroughbred horse sales have been matching or setting new records nearly every day since this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar (which you wouldn’t have known ever happened if all you have to read is the Lexington paper), you wouldn’t know about it. There hasn’t been an inch of copy of either the Fasig-Tipton or the Keeneland Fall Breeding Stock Sales. Embarrasing. Just embarrassing.
Despite the fact that the Thoroughbred industry is the only thing that sets Lexington apart from nearly every other ho-hum town of its size in the world, the newspaper has decided to totally ignore it. Totally. Embarrassing. Just embarrassing.
I’m not saying that the order to run a picture every day was the right one, but I know that the decision to completely forget the business and sporting nature of the industry that has its’ fingerprints on nearly every aspect of Central Kentucky life is definitely not the right one.
Truly, it is a shame. And, another reason why today’s print media should not be referred to as a news-paper. It is simply paper.