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.


Leave a Comment:

needler in Virginia

Tom, so sad to hear that the Kentucky legislators STILL don't seem to remember that a HORSE was chosen to represent the state on its quarter! Nor do they remember that it's the KENTUCKY Derby, NOT the Wandering Around Looking for a Permanent Home Derby. While I know there are loads of folks that travel to Kentucky each year, and that bourbon and caves and artisans, etc., are on the list of must sees, I would wager that the FIRST thing on the list of I GOTTA SEE THAT is a horse farm, a racetrack or the Horse Park. The Kentucky legislators have forgotten the very heart and soul of their state; shame on them for their lousy politics and their pea brain excuses. SHAME ON THEM for ignoring the thousands of Kentuckians who make their living by caring for horses; shame on them.........PERIOD.

Wasn't it Jefferson who said that a little revolution now and then is a good thing??? Sounds like now would be a good time for that!

Cheers and safe trips to all, except the Kentucky state government.

11 Jul 2010 5:45 PM

You hit a homerun with your article. Our self-righteous senators truly bellieve they are saving ourselves from ourselves??? Every state on Kentucky's border has a casino. 10 years ago Indiana was a JOKE, now we can't compete with them...what's the difference? Hmmm.

11 Jul 2010 9:03 PM

Whether firecrackers or casino games, Kentucky continues to suggest virtually every other state has it wrong and our (the collective) high road is the correct path. For those who actually believe this state has the lock on best practices my congratulations, for you’re far more content than the rest of us.

11 Jul 2010 9:45 PM
Weekend Storm

needler, thank you for your comments and I couldn't agree with you more. I was born and raised in KY, but have lived in TN since 1973, where by the way, horse racing coverage is abysmal, even to this day. Were it not for my computer, I wouldn't be able to follow my favorite sport, which I do daily.

Since we moved to TN, I can't even count the number of times we've attended the KY Derby. We've visited the farms in Lexington on numerous occasions, which is a wonder everyone should behold. During our visits to the major farms, we have become VERY good friends with a former stallion manager at two of those major farms, but he elected to go out on his own recently and now has a boarding farm for mares, and does prepping for the major KY sales. All this mess is hurting him because owners are taking their mares to other states where breeding incentives are more lucrative.

We also have developed a special relationship with a prominent KY trainer ... in fact we have been backside for the KY Oaks/Derby, and BC, since 2002. His schedule used to be to run the majority of his horses on the KY circuits: CD, Ellis, TP, but because of the idiotic stuff going on, that has now become quite a challenge. Don't get me wrong, he still runs that circuit, but not as much as he once did.

It's a very sad situation, and I only wish I could vote in KY, because that idiot David Williams would never get my vote!

12 Jul 2010 12:58 AM


12 Jul 2010 6:32 AM

I live in Central KY and am involved directly in the horse business. I listen to a lot of talk radio and listen with interest to discussions about expanded gaming. I am continuously amazed at how the average non-horse-involved person calling in to the radio shows seems to have no interest in helping the horse industry. Their impressions are that we are a bunch of rich people who employ illegals and are asking for handouts. I have even gone so far as to contact KEEP to suggest that we are missing the mark in educating the general public about the horse industry in Central KY. Until we can truly educate the public about the majority of people that make up this industry (non-rich, hard-working, etc.), I don't see that we will get anywhere close to receiving added money for this industry.  

12 Jul 2010 8:29 AM

One of JFK's famous quotes went like this: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country " In this instance -- what has Kentucky done for YOU as compared to what the horseman have done for Kentucky.

Maybe it's high time for the horsemen to pull up their stakes and pitch their tents in another location. Maybe if that happened, the grass wouldn't be so green in Kentucky anymore and the legislators would be eating hay!!!

Will you continually sink deeper & deeper, keeping your head just above the water until you finally collapse and drown?

In N.J., it was BOTH the horsemen and the governor who came to an agreement. After this year when the casino agreement comes to an end, who knows the future of Monmouth.The casino revenue continues to decline, so who knows if they'll reach a new agreement.

All of the horsemen have to come together as one united group, just as the lobbyists in Washington, D.C

You see the clout and influence they have.Until that day arrives in the thoroughbred world, it's fend for yourself, find your own life jacket!!!

12 Jul 2010 10:57 AM

It seems that Kentucky, just like Maryland, wants their cut off the top. Not happy with the mature idea of helping out (with slots) and reaping the benefit later through greater tax revenue. Their methods resemble organized crime's playbook than a responsible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

12 Jul 2010 11:10 AM
Dr Drunkinbum

One of Butch Cassidy's famous quotes went like this, "Who are those guys?" And from Tom LaMarra. "What is this, Washington D.C.?" Really, who does the Kentucky legislature think they are? What is Kentucky going to do without the horse racing industry? What are they going to do, wait until it totally falls apart, then say, "Maybe we'd better do something to help them out if we want that big raise this year." Legislators have forgotten that they are there for the people, meaning the citizens of their state. Do you think if horsemen ran for every legislative seat that they would win? Maybe that is what it will take. Kentucky is horse racing and horse racing is Kentucky. Get a clue.

12 Jul 2010 12:30 PM

i live in ky, where we used to have horse racing. Elp and Tp will close within two years, because the southern Ky reps run the state even though the population is elsewhere, it's unbelievable nobody from Louisville, Lexington or northern KY can get anything done for the real world, not the bible belt south. Indiana is smart, aggressive and kicking our butts in terms of racing, education and smarts. Churchill might as well move across the river.

12 Jul 2010 1:34 PM

wont miss it until it's gone, the revenues and taxes that the industry bring to the state. the vets, farriers, fuel for horse vans, hotel rooms, etc., all bring in tax dollars besides all revenue related to the horses, restaurants, bars, walmart, dry cleaners etc.--these places also pay taxes. i guess the politicians are just ignorant.

12 Jul 2010 2:28 PM

I don't think Instant Racing can help fix the state of Kentucky's uncertain and declining horse economy. It's pretty obvious that state and federal governments have been squeezing the lemon dry for quite sometime and would only squeeze harder, if continually given the opportunity.

The industry as a whole needs to change with the times or else we are in danger of losing many tracks across the United States. The current model doesn't work for the breeders, the owners, or the trainers. Nor does it for the jockey, the agent, and most importantly us, the fan.

As fans we must collectively put our heads together to help foster new and innovative ideas, to keep our great sport alive and kicking! We should look at the business models of successful operations like the NFL, for good ideas. Perhaps it would be wise to look into collective bargaining agreements, and revenue sharing for the breeders and owners. Also create incentive programs for breeders who breed black-type winners.

We need to lower the takeouts at the track and give players better odds, with full-fields. Just like Hold Em' Poker has gained notoriety and popularity among the youth on networks like ESPN, which televises these tournaments routinely. We need to do the same with handicapping tournaments. Show who the players are and get the young college kids up and competing.

Jockeys, trainers, grooms, hotwalkers, and those who are employed by the local tracks need to make more money. The morale is low, in this industry. I see it all the time. From the hotdog girl, to the ticket teller, smiles are far and few between. Remember, nothing motivates like $.

We need to fix the infastructure of our sport and find news ways to inject life into our game. We need our youth to get involved in racing, now more than ever. I'm 38, and it seems like I'm routinely one of the youngest fans that goes to the track. It has been like that for the past twenty years.

In today's society of mass media, it's all about creating the hype. When was the last time a horse graced the cover of Sportsweek, Newsweek, and Time Magazine, all in the same week, guess? Yes, Secretariat, in 1973. We need to stop waiting around for that golden horse to come along every thirty years to capture the nations imagination, with that infinite possibility of... And go out there and take our sport to the people and show them how great it is, and why it's called the Sport of Kings.

The lobbyists, legislators, and businessmen who pretend to be supporting our best interest have reached in the cookie-jar one too many times. It's time to clamp down on these guys, and reform this industry, without these unfair restrictions that have been placed on our game and way of life by people who, quite frankly, could care less what happens to the future of this great sport.                  

12 Jul 2010 3:05 PM
steve from st louis

Boy and I thought politicians here in the state of Missouri (pronounced "misery")were ignorant fools! At least Kentucky had horse racing before they screwed it up. More than I can say for my bunch.

12 Jul 2010 4:17 PM
Tim G

Yep it's a sad deal. Then add Arlington into the mix and the NYRA insolvency issues, Cal racing and it won't be long until we're match racing again.

The thing a lot don't realize is that racetrackers just don't pull up stakes anymore and travel around like nomads. They have a home base. For many it's in Louisville. I wouldn't be in KY if not for the horse racing here, and when a lot of us move to other places whether for a more lucrative business of our own or trainers, etc., start selling off their homes and the taxes of all types, spending, etc., go South? THEN people might wake up--doubtful.

Sorry Belleweather, Virginia doesn't interest me as a racing or breeding venue.

12 Jul 2010 4:47 PM
Don McD

You think Kentucky is bad? Maryland and New York can't get anything done AFTER slots were authorized. For everyone's info, there is a long section on gambling in the Economist magazine dated July 10, 2010, including a section on horse racing. Hardly news to most of us, but mostly sad, except for overseas internet wagering.

12 Jul 2010 7:21 PM

The “anti factor” surrounding racing in Kentucky is curious. Individuals’ negative perception seems mostly vectored at tracks but I sense it spills over to just about every related endeavor. The basis for the animosity is hard to define and seems to exist in different people for different reasons. The leftist ‘intellectuals’ think racing somewhat archaic and populated with people hardly like themselves. The blue-collar guys think the industry aloof and feel as if the track does not value their patronage. I don’t know how we got here but if it’s true those among us represent us, the industry should not be looking to the statehouse for help.

13 Jul 2010 9:02 AM
Let It Ride Mike

Kentucky politics operates on a system whereby a politician who has a vested interest in stopping something will often publicly favor it to the point of being able to "lead" a bill right down a dead end or off a short pier by putting in things they know will get it to fail.

I think when it's all said and done, the real power brokers in Kentucky have sided with the construction and development interests who would just as soon see lots more building and lots less breeding farms and racetracks. They just won't say it publicly.

13 Jul 2010 11:39 AM
needler in Virginia

David, just to set the record straight, I happen to be one of those "leftist intellectuals" you mentioned. Yup, I AM educated, so I guess that means I'm an "intellectual", and YUP, I AM a leftist, bleeding heart liberal, so I guess that's a double whammy for me.

All that admitted, I do NOT think racing "archaic" or populated by "people hardly like" myself. I DO think racing is populated with people EXACTLY like myself.....there may be many liberals, many conservatives, many in the zone, many not, many of different colors, religions and ethnicities, many females, many males....... but ALL...... every one.....united by a love of the Thoroughbred horse.

Their chosen pursuits may be the care and feeding of broodmares, stallions, milers, sprinters, distance horses, 'chasers or stable ponies. Their pursuits may lie in training, riding, betting or just watching horses run; but all do it because it is what they love.

What I resent is the implication is that somehow you have decided who I am, and how I think; it also appears you have boxed everyone else in a definition, too. Sad, to say, I think that's EXACTLY why racing gets a bad rep.

Cheers and safe trips to all.

13 Jul 2010 11:45 AM


15 Jul 2010 3:24 AM

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