KY Racing Commission To Make Final Decision on Oak Grove License Soon; KY Downs May Have New Owner Soon

(Artist rendering of Keeneland-Churchill Downs proposal for Oak Grove / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland-Churchill Downs)

For over a year now, the Kentucky Racing Commission has known that there has been a significant and sincere interest in building a new racetrack — along with a parlor for Historical Racing Machines — in Oak Grove, KY. Now, it appears that the industry’s ruling body may be ready to make a final decision.

According to sources close to the situation, the Kentucky Racing Commission, headed by Chairman Franklin Kling, will call its’ next meeting within 10 days or less to discuss, and take a final vote on the three applications that have been filed to construct, own, and operate a new Standardbred facility in Oak Grove — a city in Southwest Kentucky and near the Ft. Campbell military installation.

The Commission met last on Tuesday, Oct. 30 and heard testimony from the three applicants that had previously submitted the proper and necessary paperwork to obtain a new license to conduct live and historical racing in Oak Grove. That meeting lasted over five intense, painstaking, and grueling hours. And, at the end of all the testimony, many of the Commissioners were ready to take a vote at that time.

But after several motions and considerations were offered, the Commission finally decided to postpone a final vote until sometime in November. At that time, Kling asked that each of the three applicants to provide additional data and information on questions that had been posed by various members of the Commission during the marathon hearing.

That additional information — to answer only Commissioner inquiries — was sent and received last week.

Now, the Commission is apparently prepared to convene again within the next 7 to 10 days to further discuss, contemplate, and vote on which application — if any — will be granted.

The three applications under consideration are from:

  1. A new venture created by Keeneland and Churchill Downs — two of the racing world’s most iconic, legendary and historic sales and racing venues. The new venture submitted its’ application well over a year ago, and it sat idly on the desk — apparently collecting nothing but dust — until the new entity submitted dates to conduct live Standardbred racing beginning in 2019. According to existing state statutes that govern horse racing in Kentucky, the Racing Commission was obliged then to rule on the dates request before Nov. 1. Thus, that was the reason for the Oct. 30 meeting of the Commission. The new venture has proposed to spend up to $150,000,000 to construct, develop and operate the new facility in Oak Grove. Currently, Keeneland conducts two live Thoroughbred race meets — one in April and another in October. Churchill Downs, currently, conducts a meet from May through June; another one in September; and a third in November.
  2. Caesar’s Racing & Entertainment, which formerly owned Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky and currently holds a license to conduct Standardbred racing in Paducah at Bluegrass Downs. About a year ago, the Kentucky Racing Commission ordered Caesar’s to make certain improvements and changes in order for it to maintain its’ license to operate. At the Oct. 30 meeting, Caesar’s announced plans to spend over $150,000,000 to construct a new racing complex and entertainment destination in Oak Grove. When asked about Bluegrass Downs, though, Caesar’s representatives announced that the company had no plans to either expand or improve that current property, and that they had no interest in either expanding that current operation at Bluegrass Downs to offer Historical Racing Machines.
  3. Kentucky Downs, which owns a Thoroughbred racetrack and Historical Racing venue near Franklin, KY. in Southwest Kentucky and approximately an hour’s drive North of Nashville. Kentucky Downs was the first track in Kentucky to venture into the Historical Racing Machine market, and was the track to defend the operation as pari-mutuel in a lawsuit that was brought by the Family Foundation. Just a couple of weeks ago, Judge Thomas Wingate ruled — again — that the machines were legal and permitted under current Kentucky Statutes. At the Oct. 30 meeting of the Commission, Kentucky Downs submitted a much more modest, $50,000,000 proposal to build, own, and operate a Standardbred racetrack operation, which would also include a location for Historical Racing Machines.

Now, apparently, the Commission is finally poised to make a final ruling and decision. Word of the upcoming meeting spread around the sales grounds at Keeneland — who is currently conducting one of the world’s largest and most noted sale of broodmares, weanlings and breeding stock — this entire weekend.

And, according to multiple sources close to the situation, official news announcing the exact date and time of the next Commission meeting should be revealed sometime in the next couple of days.

Hold onto your seats. Like Kentucky weather, this could change quickly, too.

Ky Downs May Have New Ownership Soon

In a totally separate matter, and in a story that has been developing for quite some time, “The Pressbox” has learned that a substantial new owner could be purchasing a significant interest in Kentucky Downs — either in whole, or in part.

According to sources very close to the situation, Ron Winchell — a prominent Thoroughbred owner and breeder — may be buying into the rural racetrack that operates 5 racing days a year near Franklin, KY. The track conducts live Thoroughbred racing over a rolling turf course only, and also has a venue for Historical Racing Machines.

Winchell — who followed his famous father, Verne, into the Thoroughbred racing and breeding world — has maintained his family’s significant presence in the industry for several years. In addition to racing Tapit, whom Verne Winchell purchased as a yearling, Ron Winchell and his mother, Joan, have also raced several outstanding horses throughout the years — including the grand champion Gun Runner. After winning the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January, Gun Runner was retired to stallion duty and now stands as a stud at Three Chimney’s Farm near Midway, KY.

In addition to his vast holdings in the Thoroughbred industry, Winchell also owns and operates a chain of slot parlors in Las Vegas — where he currently resides most of the year with his family. Most of the “gaming taverns” are known as “Jackpot Joanie’s,” which are named for Ron Winchell’s mother.

According to a story written by Jay Privman for “The Daily Racing Form,” and published on Oct. 30, 2017, Winchell owns 18 facilities in Nevada, which are described as “small, local places.”

David Fiske, a top consultant to all of the Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC interests, did respond to an inquiry late on Sunday night, via Direct Message on Twitter. Fiske wrote: “At this time I can neither confirm or deny.”








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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