Adam Koenig chats with trainer Buff Bradley at Churchill Downs. (Photo by Gene McLean)

Today, we launch our “Final Thoughts” on SB 120 and the issue of Historical Horse Racing in Kentucky.

We promise.

Well, at least for the time being.

After all, we always leave a door ajar just in case we need to open it again in the future. Right? LOL.

But I will tell you that I truly look forward to the day where and when Gov. Andy Beshear sits at a table and signs SB 120 into law. Oh, happy day. Oh, glorious day. Oh, what a day. Let the party begin.

It has been such a long, long time since we have had a chance to celebrate anything; any good news; any great developments. It has been so, so long since we all could stand together; exchange embraces; shares laughs and stories; shake hands; rub shoulders; hug one another.

I’m not suggesting that any of that is either appropriate or going to happen on this celebration day. Not in reality, mind you. But, without a doubt, in the virtual world?

Oh, we are hugging. Oh, we are hugging and giving High Fives. Oh, we are celebrating.

With the current restrictions on admittance to the Capitol, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t know how many people will be able to crowd around and join the event. But whatever the size and whomever is invited in, it will not come close to mirroring the number of people that joined in this effort.

There were racetrack executives, and those that muck a stall.

There were the owners of some of the greatest horse farms in the entire world, and there were those that deliver hay and straw to them.

There were the owners of horse transportation companies, and those that drive the trucks. In some cases, there were others that sold the trucks; others that work on the trucks; others that sell tires for the trucks.

There were the owners of feed and supply companies, and those that work in the back room making the halters and shanks.

There were the owners of major veterinarian clinics, and those that work as veterinarian assistants and hold the tail of mares as they are examined.

The list could and can go on. And, on. And, on.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one other prominent name by name. The name of a great friend. The name of a man who I admire greatly, and trust without question. The name of a man who has risen from his chair over and over and over to carry tough pieces of legislation in hopes that it helps our signature industry persevere; in hopes that it helps our horse industry to be fruitful and multiply. He has offered legislation that would allow legal sports betting, by and through our licensed racetracks. He has offered legislation that would permit “Fantasy Sports” leagues and games, all of which could benefit our signature industry. He has offered his help. He has offered his soul.

Rep. Adam Koenig is the name. More importantly, Rep. Adam Koenig is the man.

I wrote on Twitter yesterday, when many thought that I had forgotten about my friend, that I wasn’t through in my hymn of praise and thanks. I wrote that, if given time, I would address what some had thought was an oversight. I wrote that, when I found the words that I want to use, that I would be prepared to issue my last and final credit.

To be honest, those words have not come easily to me. And, if you look at the length of my posts, words are normally not a problem for me to find and use.

But these words? The right words? I have found them — each and all — to be tougher than normal and choked with emotion that have sent me walking rather than writing for much of the past two days.

You see, Adam Koenig — the man, not the State Representative — means the world to me. More than he will ever know, and more than I would like to admit. Especially in public. But I have never wrote a sentence that I mean more. Not now. Not ever.

Don’t get me wrong, here. Adam Koenig is not a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Some may argue that he doesn’t openly demonstrate many, if any, emotions. He is not considered to have a warm and fuzzy personality. He is not defined as a jokester or party-favor.

Yet, don’t get me wrong, either. What Adam Koenig may lack in PDE (public display of emotion), he more than makes up in heart-felt. What he may lack in his embrace, he more than makes up in commitment of soul. What he may lack in flowery words, he more than makes up in substance and truth. He will never utter a word that he doesn’t believe in, or plan on back ing up.

I doubt there has ever been two people in this world more different in our public personas or in some of our inherent make-up than me and Adam Koenig. We are world’s apart in most things that are political. I a Democrat. He a staunch Republican. I a historian and believer in law and regulation which are essential to fair and equitable markets. He a true free-market fanatic. I a believer that I am always right. He a believer that he is always right. (Ok, we may be a little alike in that department. LOL.)

By nature, we were not meant to be friends. Just not.

But a few years ago, when I was stricken with my first serious bout of blood clots and I lay on a hospital bed in dire circumstances and dire need of a friend and a prayer, I got a text message on my phone. My beautiful wife, always by my side, had stepped out of the Intensive Care unit for such a second, and I managed to inch my fingers to gather my phone.

I checked the words:

“Gene, this is Adam. I am thinking about you. I know you will beat this thing. See you on the backside Derby week.”

It was Adam Koenig. It was my amazing grace. It was my pre-game motivational speech. It was my pep talk that I so desperately needed. It wasn’t so much the words. It was the fact that he wrote it. It was the fact that he sent it. it was the fact that he meant it.

It took me a long and difficult 10 days or so to get good enough to go home. But, normally, most people don’t get to go home standing up.

It took me another couple of weeks to get back on my feet, without tugging around an oxygen tank in tow. But, normally, most people don’t ever get to stand up again.

But a few weeks later, I did ask and get my bride to drive me out to Churchill Downs. It was KY Derby week. It was my most favorite time of year. It was my life flashing right before my eyes. And, it didn’t take me long to see some of my most favorite people.

I saw Mike Ziegler, the newest and brightest executive to be elevated at Churchill Downs. What a guy. What a friend.

I saw Buff Bradley, my longtime friend and one of the best hard boot trainers to ever walk on Churchill Downs’ backside. What a guy. What a friend.

I saw so many people. I saw the best horses in the world. And, then, I saw Adam Koenig. Just like he said I would, several weeks before.

We did not hug. We did not embrace. That would have been really strange and awkward. But we did connect. We chatted about who he liked and who he was going to bet on in the Derby. We chatted about all the upcoming Stakes events and the horses shipping in to contest. We talked about this and that. We talked about the horses.

The love in his voice showed more than anything else. He loved the horses. He loved being at the track. And, in my way of thinking, he loved seeing me, too. What a guy. What a new friend.

This week, Adam Koenig took the lead and led SB 120 through the debate on the floor of the Kentucky House of Representatives. I watched every second. I listened to every word. I watched and admired my friend navigate the deep waters and the dangerous discussions. I watched and admired how my friend could handle the controversy and the adversaries with such diplomacy and tact. I watched and admired how my friend answered the questions; asked others for help; and, ultimately, helped the legislation get the necessary votes to pass.

At 8:34 p.m. ET, I picked up my phone and I wrote my text to Adam Koenig:

“Great job. Much applause today. Best job I’ve ever seen in my 30 years on such a tough issue.”

Adam responded as I expected with two words: “Thank you.”

Suddenly, it reminded me of that night in the hospital. The time when I needed to see his words of encouragement.

And, I knew, in my heart, what friends can do for each other; what friends do for each other; what friends mean to each other.

I have known it for years now that Adam Koenig  is my friend.

Today, the entire Kentucky horse industry knows what kind of friend Adam Koenig is to them, too.

Thanks, my dear friend.

Stronach Group Defines the Difference Between “Words” and “Deeds:”

If you will remember back just a week or so ago, we offered an opinion piece that raised the question about why the Stronach Group — which owns no racetrack interest in the Commonwealth of Kentucky — had hired a prominent Frankfort lobbying firm and had entered the fray and the discussion about legislation that would authenticate and authorize the use of Historic Horseracing Machines in Kentucky.

After all, there were some compelling questions that the owners of both Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita have yet to even address, much less give any answer. In truth, probably will die before ever getting a satisfactory answer to any of them.

But…

We simply wondered aloud — and rather loudly, at that — what the entire Kentucky horse industry should know; have the right to ask and a right to be answered. After all, the entire Kentucky horse industry supports all of Stronach’s racetracks and sale’s ventures with horses that we breed; horses that we raise; horses that we own; horses that we train; horses that we own.

So, we asked:

  1. Why did the Stronach Group hire a Kentucky lobbyist late in 2020 with the specific purpose of working on HHR legislation and what turned out to be SB 120?
  2. Why did the Stronach Group NOT join the Kentucky consortium of racetracks, horse groups, civic groups, prominent business groups and others to support and push the legislation through the process?
  3. Why did the Stronach Group NOT enlist the help of its’ lobbying team and request that they recruit votes to support the measure? After all, it was every hand on deck.
  4. If the Stronach Group has wholly-owned subsidiaries that manufacture HHR machines and have either sold or leased those to Kentucky racetracks in the past, as they claim, would it not be in their best interest to see HHR clarified and finally identified to the Kentucky Supreme Court’s satisfaction?

Or?

  1. Was the Stronach Group working in concert with other “opposition groups” — like the Family Foundation and dissident legislators — to defeat the legislation that will soon become law?
  2. Was the Stronach Group threatening to oppose the legislative proposal if Kentucky racetracks didn’t expand and increase the number of machines manufactured by Stronach’s wholly-owned subsidiary? Was the Stronach Group trying to leverage the “timing” to make Kentucky’s tracks bend?
  3. If not, then what was the “end game?”

If you go back and look at our “Opinion Piece,” the headline ends with a question mark. We didn’t know the answers, but we had plenty of legit questions.

It took less than 24 hours before the PR experts hired by the Stronach penned a rather wordy retort that was huge on denial, and, quite honestly, short on facts and, well, honesty.

Here is the text of what the Stronach Group’s press release:

“Statement from The Stronach Group”

“In response to the “HHR Debate Has Created Some Strange Bedfellows…Is Family Foundation Teaming Up with Stronach Group & Some House Dems to Try & Defeat?” opinion authored by Gene McLean, the simple and emphatic answer from The Stronach Group is an unequivocal “NO”.  In fact, the allegations contained in that opinion could hardly be farther off the mark.  Not only has The Stronach Group not teamed up with the Family Foundation, there is indeed no stronger supporter of proper pari-mutuel wagering on historical horse racing than The Stronach Group, with its significant positive contributions to the horse racing industry in Kentucky and beyond. 

“PariMAX™ and AmTote International, The Stronach Group’s wholly owned subsidiaries, actually invented the modern iteration of pari-mutuel wagering on HHR more than 2 decades ago, and has been the driving force for the HHR industry ever since.  The Stronach Group has to date invested tens of millions of dollars into HHR, and no other HHR technology company has contributed more from the resulting revenues into the horse racing industry as a whole.  Benefiting the active horse racing industry and its stakeholders was the founding principle of HHR (“By Racing, For Racing”), and one that The Stronach Group has uniquely fought to maintain over the years, even when at its competitive economic disadvantage in doing so.  PariMAX pari-mutuel HHR games are currently installed on approximately 300 machines in Kentucky at the Red Mile facility (the Keeneland – Red Mile joint venture operation), which have proven successful for years, and we hope for many years to come.  PariMAX’s HHR products have handled in excess of 6 billion dollars since its invention of HHR, providing an industry starving for innovation just that, along with a substantial line of new revenue for the industry.  For all of these reasons and more, The Stronach Group’s overarching goal remains to have a healthy and long term sustainable HHR industry in Kentucky, home of the largest HHR market to date, for the good of the horse racing industry in Kentucky and abroad, not the contrary.  Any narratives being circulated that claim otherwise are categorically false and ill informed.”

Wow. Lots of words. Lots of deny, deny, deny.

But what was the fact, at the end of the day?

Well…let us help you shuck the shaft to get to the cornbread truth:

  1. Stronach alleges in its’ own statement that “there is indeed no stronger supporter of proper pari-mutuel wagering on historical horse racing than The Stronach Group, with its significant positive contributions to the horse racing industry in Kentucky and beyond.”

Well, I really don’t know what “positive contributions to the horse racing industry in Kentucky” that the Stronach Group is alluding to, (I’d like to know if they can ID) but I do know this:

There was no “weaker” supporter of HHR in this latest legislative debate and fight. None. Nada. At no time, did the Group join the consortium of groups that were lobbying in favor of this critical legislation. At no time, did the Group ask its’ lobbying firm to make calls, solicit “YES” votes, and recruit supporters. At no time, did the Group join the effort. No time.

How do you define “supporter?” As I wrote last week, my good friend, the former Speaker of the House, Greg Stumbo, used to say: “If you aren’t with me, you are against me. Which are you?”

  1. Stronach alleges in its’ own statement that “…The Stronach Group’s overarching goal remains to have a healthy and long term sustainable HHR industry in Kentucky, home of the largest HHR market to date, for the good of the horse racing industry in Kentucky and abroad, not the contrary.” 

Well, to be honest here, they had their chance. All they had to do was join “The Team.” All they had to do was join the fray. All they had to do was tell their lobby team to go to work and help get the legislation passed. Truth is: that never happened. Never. So, in truth, how does the Stronach Group envision or describe how it helped? How did it assist? How did they achieve their self-described “goal?”

Let’s cut to the chase people. The Stronach Group didn’t help. And, the questions still remain.

Did they hurt?

According to multiple sources, there were people “insinuating” that the only way the Stronach Group would ever consider joining the effort and work in favor of the proposed legislation was totally dependent on whether or not Kentucky racetracks increased the number of HHR machines — manufactured and sold by the Stronach Group’s “wholly owned subsidiaries” — in the Commonwealth by our licensed racetracks. Seriously? Are you kidding me? Really? Is that true? Maybe there is a text message or two bouncing around in the air that might clear that up. May be. We are asking. We will share if we can find.

But until then…

Does the Stronach Group want to issue another statement? Want to address that “question?” True? Not true? Want to deny, deny, deny again?

Truthfully, though, should we be surprised?

This is the same Group of people that worked to get race dates in Florida deregulated, and then set out on a policy and plan to have year-round racing. The end game was very clear to see. The future was easy to predict. The racetrack located in the better, more convenient location had an idea. And, that was to run both Hialeah and Calder out of business. And, they did.

This is the same Group that many argue is in the middle of the simulcasting controversy in Arizona right now. Is that true?

This is the same Group that set-up “Mandatory Payouts” on its’ Pick Six Jackpot carryover on the two biggest days of the Fair Grounds’ Winter-Spring Meet, to date. Just coincidence, I imagine. After all, why would the Stronach Group try to hurt racing at Churchill Downs’ facility in New Orleans, which is attracting more and better horses than ever and cutting into the horse population at little Gulfstream Park?

This is the same Group that sandwiched the Fair Grounds’ card on Saturday with races at both Gulfstream and Santa Anita. Just coincidence, I imagine, that the post times from the two Stronach Group racetracks just so happened to overlap with the same starting times of races held in New Orleans.

Should we be surprised?

Can’t be right, you may wish to think. After all, according to their own words, the Stronach Group wants the best for “…the horse racing industry in Kentucky and abroad.”

Just for fun, go back and read the Stronach Group’s “Statement” in its’ entirety.

And, just think of a quote from Charlotte Whitton, a Canadian feminist and the Mayor of Ottawa many years ago. She was the first woman Mayor in a major city in Canada, as she served first from 1951 to 1956. In addition, she was a notable journalist and writer. Her quote reads:

“Big words seldom accompany good deeds.”

Those words — not the Stronach Group’s — ring true today.

Nick Hughes: The Kentucky Genius Behind The Success of HHR in Our Commonwealth

If you want to thank any ONE person for the success of Historical Horse Racing in our Commonwealth, look no farther or further than Nick Hughes. I will write more about him tomorrow. Monday. Feb. 15. Stay tuned.