Cleaning Out the Ole’ Muck Pit: “Horseshoes Up”

(Artist rendering of newly designed grandstand for Oak Grove racetrack / Photo Courtesy of Churchill Downs/Keeneland)

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 a look at our Eleventh Edition, and a renewal of our “Horseshoes Up,” and Horseshoes Down:”

4 Horseshoes Up:

Earlier this week, the Kentucky Racing Commission announced that it would begin officially receiving, reviewing, and entertaining license applications for new racetracks in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. According to our information, the Commission will start receiving those applications, along with requests for live racing dates, beginning on Oct. 1. And, according to our sources, the Commission could render a full decision by Nov. 1, when live race dates will be assigned.

As the song-slogan used to go in the old Alka-Setzer advertisements: “Oh What A Relief It Is.”

Over a year ago, a newly formed alliance and entity developed jointly by Churchill Downs and Keeneland — two of the world’s most reputable, renown, historic, and successful Thoroughbred institutions — filed applications with the Kentucky Racing Commission to build, own, and operate new racetracks in two rural parts of Kentucky.

One of those new facilities was proposed for Southeastern Kentucky — in and around the city of Corbin. That’s an area of the Commonwealth that I am infinitely familiar with and know well. After all, back in the late 1990s, I helped instal an off-track betting facility there as the first President of the Kentucky Off-Track. Initially, I thought a new racetrack could serve a purpose there, for sure.

Without a doubt, it was a better spot than the now defunct Thunder Ridge in Prestonsburg. And, without a doubt, the Standardbred industry truly needed another venue to host and produce live racing.

But the other newly proposed racetrack venue that Keeneland and Churchill Downs submitted an application for — to be built and operated in Oak Grove, in Southwest Kentucky — really intrigued and thrilled. After all, this location has the potential to be a boom. This location has a chance to be a real tourist attraction. This facility has all the ingredients to be another gem in the Kentucky racing circuit.

Again, since my days at KY OTB, I have long been interested in Oak Grove. Truth be known, I spent many days and nights back then traveling to Hopkinsville and Christian County, attempting to convince both the local politicians and the county-wide officials that this could be an added attraction. Even way back then, nearly 30 years ago, our preliminary studies showed two things:

One, the market — located near both Fort Campbell and a major interstate highway in I-24 — was the best, untapped secret in the entire Commonwealth. By far.

Two, what with the growth of Nashville, and other major cities in Tennessee, and the convergence of Christian County, the area had great growth potential, as well.

Now, the only things that have changed is the pure fact that Oak Grove is even more attractive as a possible new location, and, the fact that both Keeneland and Churchill Downs are willing to invest over $130,000,000 in building a new facility there to conduct both live racing and create a state-of-the-art facility to host Historical Racing.

Those are proof positive signs that this could develop into a huge opportunity to expand  both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries.

Over the past couple of years, we have learned that people love watching live racing action in Kentucky. We have learned that people love playing Historical Racing, as well. And, we have learned that Tennessee is a tremendously under-served market. By expanding our racing opportunities in this area, we have a chance to expand our audience. We have a chance to attract new fans and customers. And, at the same time, we have a chance to earn, collect and utilize more revenue to enhance purses for live racing at all other venues across the Commonwealth.

Higher purses attract more and better horses.

More horses and better horses attract more fans.

More fans bet more money.

More money fuels more purses.

Get the idea?

Now, the Kentucky Racing Commission has announced that it will begin accepting new license applications. And, get this:

Any and all persons interested in doing so are eligible.

If Kentucky Downs wants to expand in this area of the state? Put up the money and make an application.

If Caesars wants to expand in this sate? Put up the cash, and make an application.

If Bluegrass Downs wants to add more territory, then first, improve your current location and then put up your money and make an application.

If Delaware North, who has reportedly sent official delegates to the Commonwealth recently and inspected certain properties that are reportedly for sale, wants to own a track in Kentucky? Put up the money and make an application.

If anyone wants to object to the expansion of live racing and creating more revenue for the existing racing circuit, then do so with information that is built on data; not just a thought, a concern, a desire to maximize a potential sale; or a hope to hold onto a monopoly. Don’t bring just an opinion. Bring some statistical data. Bring some scientific studies. Bring some credible sources and reliable assertions and conclusions.

The reason is very simple.

This is going to be exactly what it should be. A business proposal and an objective process. A deliberation on facts, not fiction. A discussion regarding merits, not myths. And, a conclusion based on what is best for the entire industry, and not the bottom line of one entity.

The people that are currently serving on this Racing Commission are very learned. They are experienced at business. They are able to discern information and make decisions based on numbers. And, that’s their job. That’s the job they accepted when they were sworn in to serve. That’s the responsibility they hold, both individually and collectively, to do what is in both the short-term and long-term best interest of the industry — as a whole.

Churchill Downs and Keeneland have played their card. In the open. In the public. No guessing as to what they want to do, or intend to do. They have set the standard and the bar. And, the last time I checked, the two of them bring some rather solid credentials to the table. Their respective resumes speak for themselves, and they speak volumes. After all, Churchill Downs will host the Breeders’ Cup in a few weeks, and Keeneland will get to the host the world’s most renown horse event in two years.

But it is time to get this issue debated in full public disclosure. It is time for transparency. It is time for a vote. It is time to get moving.

And, for now, it is time to thank Kentucky Racing Commission Chairman Franklin S. Kling, Jr. and Vice Chairman Mark Simendinger for starting the engine.

3 Horseshoes Up:

We got a nice surprise this week. When I clicked on the TV to my favorite television station that broadcasts live Thoroughbred racing, I got the pleasant news that Churchill Downs’ races would be airing. Right there in brilliant, high-definition color.

We don’t know how long TVG — the broadcast and advance deposit wagering platform — is intending to carry the live Churchill Downs signal. According to our sources, the current deal lasts only through this limited and short September race meeting.

But we do know that it is a welcome addition. And, we do hope that it is a trend that will continue into the future. While I don’t mind keeping the Churchill Downs’ signal running on my wide-screen computer monitor here at home, courtesy of my account, I truly think it is in the best interest of the industry and the game as a whole to have one of the world’s premier racetracks as a prime and regular feature on what is recognized as the industry’s network.

The more viewers should equate to more betting handle. And, the more betting handle, as we know, does beget more purse money and more notoriety for the track; its’ horses; and its’ owners, trainers, riders.

So, here’s hoping that the powers-that-be can get a long-term contract negotiated and we will know, for sure, that the signal is going to be on the tube.

If not…

I can only hope that then, and only then, that Churchill Downs and their current properties can go the way of the SEC, and other major college conferences, and create its’ own network for coverage on television. Fans deserve no less.

(Keeneland September Sales / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

2 Horseshoes Up:

The Keeneland September Yearling Sale has become the industry’s best and most notable venue and auction house for a reason. The sales company is the best in the business. And, there is no better example than the current auction, which will conclude this Sunday.

Simply put, this September’s Yearling Sale has been one of the best events in the history of the historic and legendary company. Only time will tell if the horses that have made their way into and out of the sales’ ring can duplicate the magnificent record of their predecessors — like this year’s Triple Crown winner Justify — but there is ample reason for continuing optimism and projections.

Each day of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale has seemingly created both excitement and multi-million dollar babies.

Each day, the numbers of importance — average and median — went to the cathedral-like ceiling of the noted sales pavilion.

With a full week to go in his year’s sale event, Keeneland had already surpassed the 2017 version in total of gross revenues. Amazing.

And, it didn’t take long to find consignors, sellers and buyers bragging about their lot.

There is a good reason why Keeneland continues to be the gold standard in the Thoroughbred industry. Simply put, too, Keeneland never rests.

Its’ team of experts never stops studying, examining, and improving. The team never stops recruiting, identifying, and spotting. The team never quits working.

Nothing is ever as easy as it looks. But, by the looks of things, nothing at Keeneland is about to change, either. Kudos.

(Serengeti Empress romps / Photo Courtesy of Churchill Downs)

1 Horseshoe Up:

On a normal day, Serengeti Empress would be worthy of so many more horseshoes. So many more. After all, when was the last time you saw a horse win a Stakes race by nearly 20 lengths? Quick now. The last time?

I was there last Saturday, standing right by the rail with my lovely wife, when we caught a glimpse of what may be one of the next great racing fillies of all time. When they hit the quarter pole, well, let’s go back a bit. When Serengeti hit the quarter pole, Leigh Ann looked at me and asked a very good question:

“Where’s the rest of them,” she posed.

It was a legit query. After all, there was no other horse in sight. Literally. Not another one in sight.

By the time she got to the finish line, Serengeti Empress was nearly 20 lengths in front. Then Leigh Ann posed her next question.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?”

In all my years of watching horses run, and there have been many races in that span, I have never, ever, ever witnessed — in person — such a dominating, overwhelming, convincing performance. Especially by a 2-year-old.

Before her run in the G2 Pocahontas Stakes, I talked with her trainer Tom Amoss — one of the most likable, personable, and gregarious people you will ever meet in the industry. And, he is as successful as he is friendly.

Amoss said that this filly was special.

Last Saturday, she proved to be exactly that.

Now, let’s hope that she can continue to be.











The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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