Sense of Humor, Harsh Reality in KY

With all the gloom and doom in Kentucky, it’s nice to know some people in the horse industry have a sense of humor.

On opening weekend at Ellis Park—more than 5,000 packed the place Saturday on a hot, sunny day—the mood was anything but negative and the racing better than expected. And it wasn’t without a few laughs.

“The horses are at the gate for the second race at Beulah Park,” track announcer Bill Downes said opening day.

The gaffe was completely understandable because Downes spends about seven months of the year calling races at the Ohio track viewed as a bottom-feeder when compared with Kentucky racing. A few horsemen were taken aback before laughing.

What’s simultaneously funny and sad is Beulah Park could end up with alternative gaming before Ellis Park or any other Kentucky track gets it.

Meanwhile, longtime Kentucky horseman Charles Deters certainly knows how to get a point across. On the second day of the meet, he entered Deadinthesenate (out of Casino Blues), which he bred, owns, and named, in a $5,000 maiden claimer at Ellis Park.

That got some laughs, too. But the reality is not only is alternative gaming, or any type of assistance for the Kentucky horse racing and breeding industry, dead in the Senate, it’s dead in the House and appears dead in the governor’s office.

As the second half of the racing year in Kentucky got under way, it appears another year will pass with inaction in Frankfort. Racing has managed to stem the tide by cutting dates and trimming or gutting stakes schedules, but at some point, that won’t be enough.

“It has been a positive, but we still had to cut days,” trainer William “Buff” Bradley, a member of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association board of directors, said at Ellis Park, where he was leading trainer last year. “Nothing good seems to be coming our way, so even if (the Ellis Park meet is positive), how long will it last?”

Bradley said many in the industry are “depressed” over the loss of the important Kentucky Cup Day of Champions at Turfway Park in September. Turfway officials apparently had no choice but to cut about $400,000 from stakes to just maintain overnight purses of about $125,000 a day. Pathetic for Kentucky.

Several sources told The Blood-Horse there is movement behind the scenes regarding implementation of Instant Racing machines at Kentucky tracks through action by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and an emergency order from Gov. Steve Beshear. But it’s far from a slam dunk.

When first proposed in Kentucky, the bulk of revenue from Instant Racing was to go to purses, breed development, and the racetracks, which would have to buy the devices and upgrade facilities to accommodate them. Word is circulating, however, the state wants a large chunk of the revenue—roughly twice what the state of Arkansas gets from Instant Racing at two tracks.

“We heard that, and also that the state wants to over-tax it,” Bradley said. “We’ll just have to wait to see if something happens.”

What is this? Washington, D.C.? This is how it should work: Offer the assistance, give it some time, then reap increased tax dollars from a much healthier industry.

Bradley and other horsemen are beyond tired of the lack of action. They said someone needs to have the guts to take control.

In New Jersey, someone did take control, and whether the end result is positive remains to be seen. So far so good, however, at Monmouth Park this summer.

Several decision-makers in New Jersey Thoroughbred racing advocated the “fewer days for a lot more money” model a few years ago. But it was newly elected Gov. Chris Christie who laid the hammer down and told the industry to do it this year as part of a plan to shore up the state’s racing, casino, and entertainment industries.

Christie has taken on the state’s teachers’ union, an unheard of move given its immense control and lobbying power built up over many years. Don’t expect anything near that dramatic to happen in Kentucky, where a multibillion-dollar industry appears to have no clout.

The industry is partially to blame for its situation. But assigning blame is pointless given the tenuous circumstances.

“Other states are laughing at us,” one individual said on opening day at Ellis Park.

That’s true. It’s a sad reality. But given the situation in Kentucky is so far beyond absurd anymore, it’s getting downright comical.

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