(The party scene at Rough River Lake — right here in Kentucky — just a week ago / Photo Submitted)

Disclaimer:

Ever since I was old enough to vote, I have been a registered Democrat. That spans a distance of 46 years. For the vast majority of that time, I have been proud of whom I have voted for, while they have not always been of my same party affiliation. And, for the most part, I can still stand for what I have stood for over the years, even though I have to say that I have often disagreed with some of my party’s official stances.

I must admit, too, that I find myself more and more disgruntled, dismayed, and disappointed these days. Seems as if the national issues have forced too many radical positions to now leach into the state level and into our ideas and goals, while those of us that are inclined to be more “in the middle” have been left deserted and abandoned. But that’s a more long-winded discussion best served on another day.

In the last two elections, I have walked door-to-door for two candidates. Two. Just two.

One is State Representative Jason Nemes, a Republican, who is both a great friend and a fantastic member of the Kentucky House of Representatives. While Jason and I don’t agree on every issue, I often tell him that I don’t always agree with my wife on every issue, either. In truth, I love the guy. I love his passion. I love his intellect. And, I love the way he works for people that he represents.

I will walk for Jason Nemes, again.

The second is Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, who now is our Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Admittedly, I didn’t know the Governor all that well when it came election time in 2019. But I did know the sitting Governor, Matt Bevin, very well, and I knew that I could never support the man, his politics, or, most importantly, the way he treated people.

At the same time, I also knew  Gov. Steve Beshear, the father of our current Governor. I had worked in Frankfort nearly every day during his Administration. I worked with many of the Cabinet Secretaries and the door to the Governor’s office was seemingly always open for me.

In addition, Gov. Steve Beshear’s wife, Jane, was my typing teacher at Woodford County High School back in 1973. It was the only class in high school that prepared me for life — I often joke — and my teacher was expert.

So, I knew enough to put my walking shoes on again. I did, and we all know that Andy Beshear won the Governor’s race.

Since that day in November, truthfully, I don’t know how any incoming Governor has ever been faced with a more dire and difficult first six months in office. Coming into the first session just two months after being elected is a difficult job for anyone. To prepare a budget and work with a General Assembly dominated by the opposing political party is daunting in any circumstance; by any measure. Throw in a world-wide pandemic that has turned us all inside-out, and upside-down?

In short, the job is long on obstacles. The proper choices and options are as difficult to discover as gold — rather than coal — in our Eastern Kentucky hills. The popular decisions with our people are about as tough to find as a good person — with both credentials and morals — to run for President of these United States.

It is not easy. I don’t want the job. Most of us don’t want it, either.

But, with all that being written?

It is time for this Governor to fess up about his lackluster treatment of the Kentucky horse industry. One of our Commonwealth’s “Signature Industries.” One of the things that we are known for around the world.

We should not forget that he left Churchill Downs’ backstretch shuttered for so long, leaving hundreds of Kentucky citizens trapped in other states — where most were quarantined already, and being tested regularly? Even after Churchill Downs presented, modified and proposed plan after plan for safety protocols that have cost this racetrack millions to implement, this Governor continued to delay, poster, and leave an entire industry wondering about its’ collective future and some of our most vulnerable people with jobs or paychecks.

It is time for this Governor to open up Kentucky’s racetracks to spectators again. With proper crowd control and social distancing measures, it can be and should be done. Right now. Not next week. Not in two weeks. Now.

And, it is time for this Governor to announce that the rescheduled Kentucky Derby — to be held on the “First Saturday in September” now — and the Breeders’ Cup — to be held on the “First Saturday in November” at Keeneland — will be conducted in front of fans. Our fans. Horse racing fans. Our people. All people. Plans have to be made by both track officials and those that wish to attend. Anxieties have to be quieted. Now.

It is time for this Governor to be a leader for all of us, to be sure. But it is also time for this Governor to final loosen the grip on our reins and allow for our “Horse Industry” to run. Again. The Horse Industry means that much to our overall economy, to be sure. Billions. With a “B.” It means that much to our industry, which is getting very close to having the world’s largest auctions for horses begin again. Billions. With a Capital “B.” But it means that much to our souls, too. It is who we are.

In short?

It’s time for the Governor to walk the walk. Door to door. Stall to stall. It’s time to quit shaking hands — that we can’t do anymore, any way — and start shaking things back up. It’s time to listen to reason, and then “talk the talk,” and not just on your daily press conference.

It’s time.

Here’s our request.

We eager await your responses.

More importantly, we await your decisions.

Open Letter to Gov. Andy Beshear:

Dear Governor:

I truly hope that you and your family are well, in these most difficult times. I hope that they all are safe. If not, it should be all our daily prayer for all our families; all our neighbors; all our people. It is mine for you and all.

I also want to apologize for the ignorance of some people that think it is OK to disgrace our Commonwealth and all our people with the disgusting images that have unfolded on our Capitol’s grounds. No one should be encountered with such hatefulness. No one.

I know, too, that these are most difficult times that have consumed you, your time, your thought process and your entire administration. It is, without doubt, a thankless job. But we all give thanks to those that “volunteer” to serve.

That being written, I do have some questions that I would like to pose for your consideration. After contemplating, I am hopeful that you can either acquiesce and give our Horse Industry some immediate relief, or you can give us an idea or timeline on when we might expect a return to normal activity.

To be frank, many of us believe that the current policies in place that restrict both our Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries are, in particular, punitive, arbitrary, capricious, and don’t make either logical or financial sense.

Here are my list of 5 Questions:

1. Will You Consider Allowing Fans Back at the Racetracks Now?

It is in our humble opinion that the current policy to prohibit fans from entering, watching, enjoying and wagering on live Thoroughbred and/or Standardbred races needs to be eliminated.

Immediately.

If you look at the social activities that are occurring today all over our Commonwealth, you will quickly realize that despite all educational efforts and requests, people are congregating. Some times, they are organizing. Most of the time, they are doing so without regard for the “social distancing” limits.

(This is the mass of humanity standing in line and trying to gain entry at just one of Louisville’s Division of Motor Vehicles last week / Photo by Gene McLean)

Look at the “protests” that are happening all over our Commonwealth. No social distancing.

Look at the “parties” that are occurring at our lakes and other social gathering spots. No social distancing.

Look at the state parks that have been reopened. Recently, a couple of state legislators asked for your consideration to reopen the state park at Cumberland Lake, in particular. They asked that you consider this action because of the economic impact that the park has on their area. They begged for your consideration. And, you agreed. Is there any social distancing? And, why was this request more important than that of the Horse Industry, and the licensed horse tracks?

There is no doubt that our racetracks have the capacity and the ability to accommodate our fans in a much safer environment. We have the space allocations that will allow fans to certain areas, segregated from masses. We have the staff that can monitor the participants. We have the ability to clean appropriately.

So the question begs an answer.

Why?

Why is there such a discrimination?

Why is this policy still in place?

Why is your administration being so punitive to an industry our Commonwealth desperately needs?

Why?

The 143rd Kentucky Derby was a massive success. Photo credit: Churchill Downs

2. Will You Announce That Fans Will Be Allowed to Attend the 2020 Version of the KY Derby and the 2020 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland Now?

Coming soon are two of our sports’ two biggest events.

There is the 2020 Kentucky Derby, which now will be held on the “First Saturday in September.”

There is the 2020 Breeders’ Cup, which is scheduled to be held at Keeneland on the “First Week of November.”

We need to know if fans will be allowed to attend. And, we need to know now.

There are many plans to be planned — both by the racetracks that will be accommodating the events and the fans that may be anticipating on attending.

We need to know how to make travel arrangements.

We need to know how to reserve rooms.

We need to know if we should acquire our tickets.

We need to know how the event will be set up for the fans. We need to know how close we will be sitting next to our friends and neighbors.

We need to know how we will wager, and if pari-mutuel windows will be allowed or if we all must wager over our most favorite Advance Deposit Wagering platform (hint, hint, TwinSpires.com).

We need to know if food will be served, and if so how will it be presented.

We just need to know.

Plans have to be planned.

(Derby City Gaming / Photo by Gene McLean)

3. Why Are Fans Allowed Access to HHR Venues, But Still Prohibited at Racetracks? Especially When Some HHR Venues Are Located Inside Racetracks?

To be honest, Governor, this one makes no sense. None.

Don’t get me wrong here. These venues are so vitally important to the entire Horse Industry that we are thankful that the racetracks can now open these doors and allow persons to come in and wager. And, if you look at the numbers, the fans have been eager in their interest, and have returned in numbers.

These wagers create purse money for the tracks. Critically important.

These venues create entertainment for our fans. Critically important.

These fans also spend additional dollars on food and drink — which beget more money for the racetracks. Critically important.

For these facilities to be open again? Critically important.

But here’s where we lose you. Again.

Some of these HHR venues are currently located inside the racetrack. The HHR venue in Lexington is located inside the Red Mile. The HHR venue in Franklin is located inside Kentucky Downs. The proposed HHR venue in Oak Grove — scheduled to open later this year — is located at the new Standardbred racetrack. And, the HHR venue in Henderson is located inside Ellis Park.

How does it make sense — any logic — to allow fans to come inside the racetrack and visit the HHR venue and not be allowed to stop outside, or step outside and watch a live horse race?

Are the windows that give a few of the racetrack going to have to have shades installed to prevent the fans from looking outside to see the horses?

Are the betting machines inside the HHR venue that allow patrons to bet on the races going to be turned off?

Are we going to prevent those fans from walking to their cars if the races are going on at the same time?

If it is good for the goose, Governor, it has to be good for the gander. Right? And, we want to gander at some live horse races.

(My grandson Ford used to visit the barn area with me. Not any more. / Photo by Gene McLean)

(My wife, Leigh Ann, used to cheer on our horses. Not any more. / Photo submitted)

4. Why Are Horse Owners Banned From Access to Any Racetrack Backside or Live Race?

Just recently, like within the last week, a racehorse owner has been allowed to go to the racetrack to watch their horse run in a race at the racetrack.

But even today owners are being allowed entry only in very limited numbers. If a horse is owned by a syndicate, then there is a question if all members are allowed entry. If a syndicate member does get permission to attend, there is still a question if your spouse is also allowed to attend with you. In some cases, some owners may have to win a “lottery” to gain access.

In addition, even today, no license owner is allowed entry to the backside to visit or watch their horse either work or talk to the trainer in person. This is their property. Not the racetrack’s. Not the trainer’s. Not yours. Not mine. The horse is the property of the owner or collection of owners.

Let’s be very frank. This is inexcusable. Totally. And, in all probability, illegal.

In fact, I am shocked and dismayed that none of the alphabet soup of Horse & Racing organizations and associations have not filed suit to overturn this edict. The Kentucky HBPA, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders’ Association, the Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders’ Association, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, The Jockey Club and any other group that purports to represent the interest of horse owners should have come together to challenge this ruling. Already. Quite honestly, it is embarrassing for any and all of these organizations that they have not taken legal action. But that’s our fault.

It’s your Administration’s fault to have instituted it.

I can not imagine any other owner of any other business interest being prohibited to go to their store, their business location, their premises to check on, monitor, or oversee their own property.

It is disgusting to those of us who are horse owners — the people that put up our own, hard-earned money to “put on the show” — that we are prohibited to any licensed premises to check on our horses.

Just like any racetrack employee, we are licensed. We undergo finger printing. Our backgrounds are checked. And, we pay for this privilege. As such, we should be granted the same privileges that we have earned and we expect.

If we must be health monitored — just like trainers are — to gain entry, so be it. We are prepared to be safe.

But to arbitrarily prohibit us from entry? Inexcusable.

This policy should be ended. And, an apology should be issued.

(Gene and Leigh Ann at one of the Churchill Downs’ corporate suites / Photo submitted)

5. Finally, Why Are Restaurants at Racetracks Still Closed, While Other Restaurants Are Allowed to Open? 

Again, the logic of this prohibition escapes all rational thought. At the very least, my way of thinking.

Seriously.

How can a restaurant located across the street from a licensed racetrack be open — even with the limits that have been imposed — but a restaurant that is located within the licensed racetrack is still prohibited from opening?

I have visited nearly every major racetrack in this country. Can’t think of one — any — that I have missed. And, every single one that I have attend has a restaurant area contained within the premises.

Yet, to this date, racetrack restaurants are being unfairly treated. They are forced to stay closed. And, hundreds of our citizens are unemployed because of it.

Let’s be fair for just a second, this type of discrimination should never be tolerated in our society. Not in this country. Not under these times, either. Not ever.

Again, I can believe that any judge in any jurisdiction can validate this action. And, again, I can’t understand why someone or somebody has not already challenged this with the assistance of our Attorney General.

But you have the ability to fix this problem. And, it should be fixed. Right now.

In closing, Governor, we welcome your answers.

Open up. Talk about it.

Or open up our racetracks. Now.

We may not agree on the issues and how they are being handled, but as an industry we deserve a little more. At the very least, a little more respect.

All the Best/

Gene McLean