OPINION: KY Racing Commission Has A Chance to Move Industry Ahead — Again / Let’s Hope They Do This Time

(The Kentucky Racing Commission is schedule to meet at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16 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)

Once again, the Kentucky Racing Commission has a chance to move the entire horse industry in the Commonwealth forward — in a very important, aggressive and significant way — when it convenes again on Friday, Nov. 16.

On Oct. 30, the Commission met in Lexington to hear testimony from three different entities that have all filed applications to construct, own and operate a Standardbred racing venue and a Historical Racing Machine parlor in Oak Grove, KY.

For over five long, enduring, agonizing, and exasperating hours, the Commission then deliberated on what to do next.

Some wanted to vote immediately on which proposal should win the license and the right to move forward.

Some wanted to wait for awhile, give the whole debate another 30 days, and give the applicants time to answer some of the lingering questions in writing.

And, for some odd reason, one member of the Commission wanted to postpone the vote and decision indefinitely. Never mind that the first application was received by the Commission well over a year ago. Never mind that all the applicants have already submitted enough paperwork to kill a few million trees and create a stockpile of “summations” that a show dog couldn’t jump over, for some reason they just didn’t think it was time to vote. Guess they didn’t feel that there had been enough disclosure, discussion and debate.

Yet, at the end of the day (and, literally, it almost was the end of the day), the Commission finally decided to move the decision until November. Until a date after the Breeders’ Cup. Until a date before Thanksgiving.

Ultimately, until today.

Now, at 1:30 p.m. ET on Friday, the Commission will convene yet again at the Kentucky Horse Park. And, here is hoping that the regulatory body will finally take a public vote, and finally decide on what applicant will win this fertile new market for expansion.

No matter what you think, or whom you believe in their respective opinions on what entity should get the new license and develop the new market, there is one over-riding, overwhelming, indisputable fact.

One clear fact.

One very obvious fact.

One thing that ALL agree to and on.

Oak Grove — and its’ proximity to the booming Clarksville, TN and expanding Nashville, TN markets and its’ close distance to the front door of Ft. Campbell — is one heck of a new marketplace.

Oak Grove — with its’ location next to the ever-expanding mass of commuters up and down I-24 — is one heck of a new location.

Oak Grove — with all of its’ land availability that is primed and ready for development — is one heck of a potential expansion.

If you dig through all the hyperbole…

If you tune out the gnashing of teeth; the absolute cries of market invasion; and the absurd assertion that one track has a monopoly on all of the Tennessee market…(after all, there are a number of racetracks in Kentucky — already licensed — that are closer in traveling time and distance than any newly proposed track in Oak Grove is to Kentucky Downs)

If you simply focus on the issue at hand…


Everyone in the room agrees to the fact that the entire horse industry — both Standardbred and Thoroughbred — have a lot to gain by simply allocating a new license, and exposing a brand new market to live racing; simulcasting of live racing; and Historical Racing Machines.

In fact, there are millions of reasons to do so. Today.

And, that is, very simply, millions of dollars that could be, should be and will be infused into purses for all segments of the horse industry.

So, here we are.

Decision Date.

Telling Time.

Will it be Kentucky Downs, which is now in the process of being sold to a new group formed by long-time Thoroughbred owner and all-around good guy Ron Winchell, and partner Marc Falcone?

Kentucky Downs argues that a new track in Oak Grove could damage its’ handle and hurt its’ operation near Franklin, KY — despite the fact that it has never offered any scientific research or data by a viable, objective third-party. So, one is left to only make conjecture, and speculation.

To date, the Kentucky Downs’ team has said they are willing to spend about $50,000,000 on a new facility in Oak Grove.

Will it be Caesar’s Racing & Entertainment, which owns a Standardbred operation in Paducah, KY known as Bluegrass Downs?

If you have ever been to Bluegrass Downs, you would never, ever, ever consider an application for a new racing venture in Kentucky for this operator. Not unless they would agree to upgrade the existing location, or move it to the new venue.

But the Caesar’s group did a solid job in its’ job interview on Oct. 30, and validated how dramatic the new market in Oak Grove could be. If the new location would be closer to Hoosier Downs — which it owns in Anderson, IN — rather than Bluegrass Downs, it may be OK.

Caesar’s says it will spend up to $175,000,000.

Or will it be the consortium of Keeneland and Churchill Downs? After all, these are two of the most iconic and historic racing and sales institutions in the world of Thoroughbreds? The World.

Each of them host the Breeders’ Cup. The World Championships of racing.

Each of them are known by name and reputation — no matter where you may go in the entire world. The Kentucky Derby is internationally renown as the best “Two Minutes in Sports.” The Keeneland race meets are held in the highest regard, and the world’s rich and famous come to Lexington each year to purchase the best bloodstock the game has to offer.

And, they have announced they will spend up to $150,000,000.

Seems like an easy decision to me. Seems like a no-brainer. Looks like the closest thing to a “walk over,” I have ever seen.

But, then again, nothing is ever easy any more. Not even “walk overs.”

Let’s just hope that the Kentucky Racing Commission decides to finally move forward and makes a decision. After all, the industry is waiting.

And, so are the people in Oak Grove.


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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