Confirmed: KY Downs Will File Application for New Racetrack License at Oak Grove

According to sources very close to the situation, “The Pressbox” has learned that Kentucky Downs — the rural, all-grass racetrack located in Franklin, KY. — will submit an application this week to build, own, and operate a racetrack in Oak Grove, KY.

Corey Johnsen, the President of Kentucky Downs, responded to a text request just a few minutes ago, confirming the news that we broke earlier this hour. In response to a text message asking for comment on the credibility of the story, Johnsen texted:

“Yes. By October 1.”

When the application is submitted — and we are being told that the new paperwork could come as early as Wednesday, Sept. 26 or as late as this Friday, Sept. 28 — Kentucky Downs will become the second in-state entity to file such a request with the Kentucky Racing Commission to own a facility in the same location.

About a year ago, a new business entity composed of and by both Keeneland and Churchill Downs submitted an application to build a new racetrack and other amenities at Oak Grove — a town that borders Fort Campbell in the southern tip of Christian County in Southwest Kentucky.

The Keeneland-Churchill Downs’ proposal previously submitted stated that the new entity planned to construct the new racetrack that would accommodate Standardbred racing, and would also construct a state-of-the art facility to house Historical Racing, as well.

Currently, Keeneland — which conducts one of the world’s most renown live Thoroughbred race meets in both the Spring and Fall — owns and operates a Historical Racing venue in Lexington, along with The Red Mile.

Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby and who conducts more live Thoroughbred race dates in the Commonwealth than any other racing jurisdiction, just opened a new Historical Racing operation at the former Louisville Downs location in Louisville. The new facility, known as Derby City Gaming, is a beautifully constructed and adorned building that is the home to over 900 machines.

(Keeneland-Churchill rendering for racetrack proposed at Oak Grove)

The Keeneland-Churchill Downs proposal for Oak Grove also includes other amenities and sidebar attractions. The plans call for a newly constructed indoor/outdoor grandstand, and, eventually, placements for a new hotel, convention area, and other commercial properties.

In total, the proposal estimated that the total cost for the new entertain complex to be in the range of $120,000,000.

Recently, Keeneland-Churchill submitted an application to run live Standardbred dates at the new Derby City Gaming location in Louisville in 2019, with the caveat that those dates would be immediately transferred to the new racetrack planned for Oak Grove in 2020. The new Derby City Gaming facility is located at the former home of Louisville Downs, which was once one of the lynchpins of Standardbred racing in the entire South. When purchased by Churchill Downs, though, the track was converted to a training facility for Thoroughbreds, and has been kept for that purpose ever since.

“The Pressbox” has not seen the details of the proposed application that Kentucky Downs is considering to submit, but we have been told that the track has been working on its’ proposal for over a year, and had considered submitting it earlier. According to our information, this application would also include a limited number of live Standardbred race dates, and construction of a facility to house Historical Racing.

A source close to the situation indicated that the Kentucky Downs’ proposal would be in the neighborhood for “15 to 25 million.” “The Pressbox” has also learned that Kentucky Downs could also pledge to spend another $15 to 25 million on improvements at its’ track located in Franklin, KY. Kentucky Downs was the first track to own and operate Historical Racing as part of its’ daily pari-mutuel menu. And, it has proven to be a great success story at the track’s facility in Franklin — creating millions for the operations and for the purse accounts.

In addition, there has been a consistent rumor that Caesar’s Entertainment, which currently holds the license to conduct Standardbred racing at Bluegrass Downs in Paducah, KY., may also be considering a proposal for Oak Grove, as well.

“The Pressbox” contacted a source very close to Caesars, and we have learned that they will be retaining legislative agents in the Commonwealth in the very near future. We do not know if that has anything to do with submitting a new racing license, or not.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Kentucky Racing Commission announced that it would begin receiving and reviewing all new applications for racetrack licenses. In that announcement, the Commission stated that it wanted all requests for live dates to be submitted by, or prior to Oct. 1. If the Commission does award a new racetrack license for any new jurisdiction, then it will announce that decision and award live dates on or before Nov. 1, 2018.

Stay tuned for further details.






“Diversify has good cruising speed, and once he goes that 46 and change, and he’s in front by three or four he’s a tough horse to run down,” said Summers. “He’s a good New York-bred, but we look forward to seeing him down the road. He struggled at Churchill. We think we’re going to love Churchill.

“At this point we’ll see how he comes out of it. I thought he galloped out of it really good. We’ll talk to Joel and the connections, but I see no reason not to go on, to kind of move on,” he added. “Obviously, you have to get one more win and you’re in, to qualify and get in, but I think he showed up with another big effort here today, so I see no reason not to move forward.

Chad Summers, Trainer of runner-up Mind Your Biscuits
  • 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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