OPINION: KY Racing Commission Has A Chance to Help Entire Horse Industry on Tuesday; We Can Only Hope That It Does Just That

(The Kentucky Racing Commission is schedule to meet at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 30 to decide on racing applications for Oak Grove. Here is the artist rendering from the Keeneland-Churchill Downs proposal / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland-Churchill Downs)

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Kentucky Racing Commission will convene a meeting in Lexington, KY. to openly discuss and award live race dates for the 2019 calendar year.

In itself, that is truly no big deal. The Commission, by statute, is required to do that every, single year for the upcoming calendar. And, after years of reviewing, discussing and setting live race dates for both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries, the process has pretty much set its’ own course. Kind of like a river flow carves its own bed.

But at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Kentucky Racing Commission is also scheduled to open the floor and allow public comment on three new applications that have been filed to construct, own, and operate a new racetrack in Oak Grove, KY. — a rural city at the southern tip of Christian County and very near Fort Campbell.

Now that, my friends, is truly a big deal. A damn big deal.

Make no mistake about it, at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, this Kentucky Racing Commission will have the opportunity that few Commissions in this great Commonwealth has ever had the chance to do. This Kentucky Racing Commission will have a chance to do something that even fewer Commissions in this great United States has ever had the opportunity to do. This Kentucky Racing Commission will have — sitting on their table and in their laps — the ability to decide on how best to expand both racing, and the entire horse industry in such a powerful way that it could impact the Kentucky equine business in this state for generations to come.

We can only hope that this Kentucky Racing Commission grabs that opportunity, and like the great industry that it regulates — runs with it. Full throttle. Full bore. Full tilt. From gate to the wire. With full discussion. With honest debate. With complete transparency. And, at the end of it all, with a full vote of every member of this Commission on the merits of how best to take this opportunity and advance all of the industry.

Literally, it means millions of new dollars to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It also means millions of new dollars for purses for both Standardbred and Thoroughbred owners and breeders. It is worth millions.

In order to set the predicate and the importance of this monumental decision time, let’s provide a quick update:

It was over a year ago, that a new venture forged between two of the world’s greatest, most notable, and most iconic Thoroughbred institutions — the Keeneland Association and Churchill Downs — filed an application with the Kentucky Racing Commission to build, own, and operate a Standardbred racetrack in Oak Grove. In addition, the new venture would build , own and operate a state-of-the-art Historical Racing venue at the same location.

The future development would include upscale shopping areas, a hotel, and other entertain amenities — such as stabling areas; and other horse-themed attractions.

The new company provided a dossier of information, complete with architectural drawings; financing details; construction schedule, with shovel ready dates to begin and end the project; and other facts and figures. The application was thorough, detailed, comprehensive and complete.

The new group projected and now projects to spend upwards of $125,000,000 to develop the new project. Economic development in a rural segment of Kentucky not known for major development projects. Jobs in a section of the Commonwealth that needs good, high-paying jobs. Construction opportunities in a location that could use an injection of both capital and investment.

And, the application sadly sat idly on the Commission’s desk. No action taken. And, the rest of the industry sat on its’ respective hands, as well. No other applications submitted.

Dormant.

Until about a month to six weeks ago when the new venture of Keeneland and Churchill Downs announced that it would be applying for live Standardbred race dates at the former Standardbred racetrack known as Louisville Downs in 2019, with the idea that it would transfer those dates to its’ new facility in Oak Grove in the year 2020 — if the Commission would grant the license request.

It was a jumper cable to Frankenstein’s temples, to use a Halloween analogy.

In a matter of days, to his credit, Commission Chairman Franklin S. Kling publicly announced that the Kentucky Racing Commission would begin “accepting” applications, and set a schedule to review any and all such applications throughout the month of October in order to render a decision by the first of November.

But let’s be clear. The Kentucky State Statutes — set out by the Kentucky Legislature years ago — has already defined the process of how race license applications should be submitted, considered, and, ultimately, race dates rewarded and awarded. Any good lawyer in the room on Tuesday — and the Chairman certainly qualifies on all accounts — can read and clearly define both the intent and direction of the current statutory scheme.

Yet, this Chairman — again to his credit — wanted to establish a regulatory process that would give redundancy to the entire review process; to the details of the application; and to consider the dates requests. So, he and the Commission did just that.

Although the Statutes clearly define the process, the Commission went to “belts and suspenders” approach. Good for them. Applause.

In a matter of weeks, then, Caesar’s — which owns a racing license to conduct Standardbred racing in Paducah at a place known as Bluegrass Downs — issued an application for a license in Oak Grove on the last day possible. I won’t disparage Bluegrass Downs. Or, at least try not to. But if you ever want to go watch live racing — of any breed — do yourself a favor. And, don’t go to Bluegrass Downs. The only track I have ever been to in person where the mosquitos are bigger than the horses. OK. That’s an exaggeration. Almost as big.

Truth be known, if Caesar’s wanted to spend money in Kentucky, it should be ordered to do so in Paducah — first and foremost.

In a matter of weeks, too, Kentucky Downs — which currently owns a racing license to conduct Thoroughbred racing in Franklin, KY. — issued an application for a license in Oak Grove on the last day possible, as well, despite the claims from this ownership team that it has had an application ready to file for a new track license in Oak Grove for well over a year. This application called for a total new investment of less than $50,000,000 to develop the new project.

The entire month of October, the Commission and its’ staff has done its’ due diligence. They have reviewed the applications. They have delved into the numbers. They have heard from all parties.

While the “belt” of the Statutes clearly defines the process, the “suspenders” of the Commission’s task force has carved out the details for consideration.

Now, it is time. Time for action. Time for reaction. Time to listen. Time to speak. Time to take a stand. Time to withstand any temptation to do anything else. Time to be counted for and accounted to.

Time to vote.

And, when you do, members of the Kentucky Racing Commission, I hope you will consider the following facts.

Not opinions; not suspicions; not conjectures. Not some last ditch distraction, or another request for delay.

Facts. As Joe Friday used to say. Just the facts:

Fact #1: The Mayor of Oak Grove sent a letter to the Commission supporting the application submitted by the new venture of Keeneland and Churchill Downs. No other application has that endorsement.

Fact #2: The Christian County Judge Executive sent a letter to the Commission supporting the application submitted by the new venture of Keeneland Churchill Downs. No other application has that endorsement.

Fact #3: The Keeneland-Churchill Downs venture is ready to run live dates in 2019, and break ground for the new facility to race beginning in 2020. Not other application projects to do meet that timeline.

Fact #4: The Keeneland-Churchill Downs venture projects to spend $125,000,000 compared to less than $50,000. Are you kidding me? My golden retrievers can do that math.

Fact #5: The Keeneland-Churchill Downs names have an international reputation for excellence — spare none. After all, the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Churchill Downs this week, and returns to Keeneland in two years.

Fact #6:  Only one application has been sitting on your desk for well over a year now. Details there for the looking. Details there for the review. Details there for the consideration. Details there for the analysis. Details there that check every box that the Kentucky State Statues require to be answered for consideration by the full Kentucky Racing Commission.

Tuesday is a big deal for the Kentucky Horse Industry. And, a big deal for the Kentucky Racing Commission. And, a big deal for the Kentucky Racing Commissioners. A damn big deal.

Tuesday is the day to vote.

Hopefully, Tuesday is the day to move the industry forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • 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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