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Kentucky Track Under Consideration

Keeneland proposes a Quarter Horse track in southeast Kentucky.

Edited Press Release
February 15, 2013

Generic Racing Shot

A new Kentucky racetrack featuring American Quarter Horses is a growing possibility, reports The Lexington Herald-Leader.

On February 14, Thoroughbred racetrack Keeneland and partner Full House Resorts of Nevada, have filed paperwork with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission indicating their intention to purchase a harness racetrack in Prestonsburg, on the east side of the state, with plans to recreate it as a boutique Quarter Horse track in Corbin, which is approximately two hours southwest.

No timetable on these events has been set.

Read the full story at The Lexington Herald-Leader.

The plans of the Keeneland Association to establish a new pari-mutuel racetrack in Kentucky expressly for Quarter Horse racing have been formulated with advice of a special panel recommended by AQHA. The advisory group, consisting of four Kentucky breed representatives, has been consulting with officials of Keeneland for several months on the market feasibility, as well as the most appropriate design, of the proposed new facility. Members of the group include KQHRA President Dick Connelley, AQHA directors Norm Luba and Bennie Sargent, and Racing Committee member Rich Wilcke.

According to the group, while Quarter Horse-type racing is better established in western states, there has long been significant national interest in having a major sprint-racing track east of the Mississippi. Kentucky, they believe, is a logical location, given its sprint-racing history (modern and colonial), its unparalleled Thoroughbred breeding industry (whose horses can be used in crossbreeding), and the fact that the owners of at least 40,000 Quarter Horses may be found in all 120 counties in Kentucky.

Records show that pari-mutuel Quarter Horse racing was popular in Kentucky in the 1980s. The pinnacle was 1988, with an 81-day Quarter Horse meet run at Bluegrass Downs in Paducah, and a 59-day Quarter Horse meet at Riverside Downs in Henderson. Changes in track ownership and the regulation of horse racing in the early 1990s ended all Kentucky Quarter Horse racing until a token two-day meet in 2004 at The Red Mile in Lexington in a response to recent legalization of Quarter Horse simulcasting. The meet was last held in 2010.

“The enthusiasm of the record crowds drawn by just two days of races limited to 330 yards caused us to begin dreaming of a track that would showcase our sport more effectively than anywhere else,” says Rich Wilcke, an advisory-group member. “We went so far a half-dozen years ago as to visit with Keeneland officials about its not-for-profit structure and its unique approach to racing. Needless to say, never did we dare to ask or envision that Keeneland itself might establish such a facility.”

Sprint horse racing is as different from Thoroughbred racing as is the drag racing of hot-rod automobiles from a NASCAR event, argue the members of the group advising Keeneland. Their sport, they contend, is like the exciting start and the thrilling finish of a Kentucky Derby. In regard to the regional market for the facility, AQHA’s records show that within a 300-mile radius of south central Kentucky there reside owners of just under 550,000 registered American Quarter Horses.

The Kentucky Thoroughbred by Kent Hollingsworth, late editor and publisher of The Blood-Horse magazine, described the very first horse racing (1780s) in the “territory of Kentucke” (now the Kentucky Commonwealth) as follows:

“These were not Thoroughbreds but they were raced, for the character of the people who came to be called Kentuckians, second sons from Virginia and Carolina seeking adventure, action, fortune in free lands, was such that when there were no Indians to chase and no stumps to be cleared, there were arguments to be settled; in Kentucky, arguments usually were settled by a horse race…These usually were quarter-mile     dash races on straight paths or town thoroughfares, if the stumps had been cleared.”

The eventual facility envisioned may include not only a racetrack with all that that entails, but also other features to host events and to attract stock-horse aficionados from coast to coast. These could include professional arenas for the other disciplines in which Quarter Horses excel, sale facilities, accommodations for out-of-the-region advocates of trail riding, and perhaps even a museum, which could focus attention on the well-known Quarter Horse foundation sires that started out in Kentucky.

The advisory group, representative of national and local associations, is dedicated to helping Keeneland develop a venue that will not only serve the sport and the breed – “as they were meant to be” – but that will also become a significant factor in the economic growth and cultural attractiveness of the area. It should have a positive impact on tourism in the area and help it to develop into a nationally important racing center for the world’s most populous breed of horse.