(Jeff Ruby Steaks Day at the new and improved Turfway Park / Photos by Holly M. Smith)
We are now embarking on a new “feature” that we hope to continue each Monday for the remainder of 2023. We are calling it “McLean’s Monday Musings & Muck Pit.”
It’s some of our thoughts and reflections about what has happened in the horse world over the past weekend, and, perhaps over the past week. Some are good thoughts. Some may be afterthoughts. Some may call them our “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” thoughts. And, yes, some will be our figurative “pitch fork tosses” into the proverbial “Muck Pit.”
So, without further adieu, here’s our inaugural pitch (and some fork):
Why Pass Sports Betting Legislation? Just Look What HHR Has Done for Turfway Park & Jeff Ruby Steaks:
It never ceases to amaze me how the Kentucky General Assembly works.
And, sometimes, how it does not.
And, this year is no different.
Here we are on Tuesday night and the cusp of the final two days of the 2023 Legislative Session for this year’s version of “As the World Turns,” and the Kentucky State Senate is still debating whether or not to bring up the issue of legalizing sports betting for an official vote.
Never mind that 38 other states have already passed similar legislation.
Never mind that seven of the eight states that surround Kentucky have already passed permissive legislation; have sports betting venues and online suppliers already up and running; and now even Missouri is moving toward passage.
Never mind that you can go to the Cincinnati Reds’ opening game on Thursday; sit in the sports bar at Great American Ballpark; and wager on the game that is being played on the field below and just inches away from Kentucky’s own Ohio River.
Never mind that the polls show that nearly 80% of adult voters are in favor of the measure.
Never mind that bookies have often teamed with bootleggers and preachers to keep Kentucky light years behind the rest of the civilized world by operating illegal operations that create black market decay and zero investment in real entertainment destinations.
Never mind that some of those who have said they are opposed to sports betting have already voted to legalize medical weed.
Never mind all the facts.
Just know with just two days left in this legislative session, some members of this Senate are continuing to argue and hold onto a theory that people will surely go straight to hell if they are given the right to invest their own money on the outcome of a sporting event. Money that our people have worked for, mind you; earned, for sure; and have already paid taxes upon. Their own money.
To those people — some of whom I admire, respect, and like personally — that archaic thinking is absolutely ridiculous and pure folly. After all, you are not preventing sports betting. You are simply empowering illegal bookies to continue to operate and you are forcing our citizens to go across state lines to a legal operation. That’s all you are accomplishing.
To those people — some of whom may have self-proclaimed convictions and religious beliefs that are more closely aligned with prohibitionist Carrie Nation than based on any scripture — you are not stopping sports betting. You and your extreme form of isolationism are simply punishing our own citizens and Kentucky-based businesses by limiting their options and opportunities. That’s all you are accomplishing.
If you don’t believe? Well, the truth is truly right in front of your eyes. The evidence is tangible and real. You can see it. You can hear it. You can feel it. You can smell it.
Take off the blinkers. And, just take a look.
Just a couple of years ago, many of us found ourselves in a very similar debate and gut-wrenching game of arm-twisting and mind-changing. At that time, the Kentucky Supreme Court had ruled that the Historical Horse Racing venues that were operating at licensed racetracks were illegal games that did not meet the definition of pari-mutuel wagering. At that time, the Kentucky Supreme Court demanded that the Kentucky Legislature must to act to affirm the legality of the machines. At the time, the Kentucky Horse Racing industry had screeched to a crossroads of fortune.
In order to grow the industry and offer the type of racing that could compete globally with the best venues, the Kentucky racetracks desperately needed the General Assembly to pass legislation that would give them the right — again — to operate HHR sites.
Some of the same naysayers as you see today stood and preached of doomsday scenarios and disgusting ruin of the Kentucky-way of life, as we knew it to be. Some of the same people as you see opposing the possibility of sports betting — and who think they have the right to dictate how we spend our own money — thumped their chests, condemning and predicting gloom, despair and agony.
But let’s pause the demagogue button for just a second.
Let’s look at the facts.
Since the General Assembly — including many members that are still in this Kentucky State Senate — passed legislation authorizing the Kentucky licensed racetracks to own and operate Historical Horse Racing venues, there has not been a single town to fall into ruins.
Instead, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent improving Kentucky’s racetracks.
Instead, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent building sparkling new entertainment centers that have attracted fans and tourists from other states.
Instead, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on new construction; new construction items.
Instead, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on creating new jobs for both our citizens and others.
Revenues to the General Fund have gone up. Life has gone on. And, Kentucky’s legendary and signature industry — Thoroughbred horse racing — has flourished like no other time in history.
Just take a look at the new and improved Turfway Park this past Saturday.
Before the General Assembly passed HHR legislation, Turfway Park had eroded into one of the worst racetrack facilities in the free world. Much of the structure was condemned and people were not even allowed access. Much of the structure reeked of smells that was foreign to most humans. Simply put, it was a deplorable site and ugly sight.
As soon as Churchill Downs purchased the property, the track did the only humane thing. Churchill Downs’ construction teams collapsed it to the ground. And, Churchill Downs waited for the General Assembly to act, waiting for the chance to build the historic racetrack back in a fantastic way.
Churchill Downs promised a world-class venue. Churchill Downs swore that it would built a new showplace and a new showcase. Churchill Downs pledged to restore credibility and class to a world-class entertainment site that would attract both fans and horses.
As soon as the legislation passed, the promises were fulfilled.
Earlier this year, Churchill Downs unveiled a new racetrack and a genuine, first class entertainment location.
And, this past Saturday, the new and improved Turfway Park hosted its’ first Jeff Ruby Steaks in the new location.
Without question, it was the best day of live racing ever presented in the history of Northern Kentucky.
The Jeff Ruby Steaks — with a purse of $700,000 — suddenly had become one of the richest prep races for this year’s 149th running of the Kentucky Derby.
The Jeff Ruby Steaks — with an increase in points assigned for the Kentucky Derby — suddenly had attracted some of the best possible contenders for the biggest and most important race in the history of the sport.
The Jeff Ruby Steaks recruited the likes of Hall of Fame Trainer Todd Pletcher and some of the best riders in the sport in John Velazquez and Irad Ortiz, Jr.
The Jeff Ruby Steaks attracted a crowd that packed the facility’s new ballroom to the gills and spilled over to the track’s apron and paddock area.
Now look at the real numbers:
On Saturday, this year’s Jeff Ruby Steaks had a total betting handle of $10.1 million. Just a year before, the Ruby-day handle was $7.9 million.
Are you kidding me?
Going into the final three days of this year’s meet, Turfway Park has raced 45 days this year. The total betting handle has been $135,365,327 million. The total purse allocation has been $17,784,500. There has been 373 races with a total of 3,653 horses to start. The average field size has grown to a whopping 9.79 horses per race. And, there is still 3 days to go.
A year ago, Turfway Park had run 39 days of live racing. The total betting handle was $89,658,354. The total purses was $13,425,000. There were 332 races run. There were 2,993 horses to race. The average field size was 9.02.
Are you kidding me?
There is one reason for these massive gains and increased economic indicators in every important category. One reason. One reason only.
The General Assembly passed HHR legislation. The Governor signed HHR legislation.
The shackles removed. The industry invested.
The business has soared.
The fans have come. The horses have come. The world is coming.
Now, if the General Assembly simply passes Sports Betting legislation, the future of Thoroughbred racing in Kentucky could become one of the world’s most attractive locations. Anywhere. Everywhere.
Can you imagine the Jeff Ruby Steaks — a race nobody wanted to sponsor just a few years ago — with a purse of $1 million? Seriously? That would make it one of the richest preps for the Kentucky Derby. Anywhere. Everywhere.
Can you imagine the Turfway Park meet overall? Greater purses. Greater track amenities and barn area? Can you imagine the rest of the Kentucky racing circuit?
All the members of the General Assembly has to do is look at last Saturday’s Jeff Ruby Steaks.
The proof is in the Jeff Ruby bread pudding.
Sports betting is the cherry on top.
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