Kentucky is the center of the universe when it comes to the US horse racing industry and the host of Kentucky Derby where you can bet on the Derby and see the famous Kentucky Derby horses. While most fans and bettors might defer to Churchill Downs as the state’s most popular track for legal horse betting, Keeneland Racecourse and Kentucky Downs would also rank high on the list.
The latter two tracks have formed a partnership to bring harness racing to Corbin, Kentucky. This is around 80 south of Keeneland’s home base in Lexington. Kentucky Downs is in Franklin near the Tennessee boarder.
An application has been filed with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC). Part of the plan is to obtain a pari-mutuel racing license for the new track. Another part of the plan is to build an extension facility to house historical horse racing (HHR) machines.
Current Kentucky regulations allow in-state tracks to operate an extension facility within a 60 mile radius of its location. The recommended site would be Williamsburg. This is just 15 miles away from the Corbin location.
HHR machines look like regular slot machines. However, they are housed with an extensive library of previous horse races. These races ultimately determine the outcome of each individual wager.
Keeneland Vice President and COO Vince Gabbert noted that land for each venue is under contract. The joint venture would like to install close to 400 HHR machines in both Corbin and Williamsburg.
Churchill Downs already has plans in place for an extension facility in Newport. This is located in the northern portion of the state near the Ohio border. The plan has been approved by the KHRC.
Churchill’s ultimate goal is to use HHR machines to boost the horse racing purses for Turfway Park. This racetrack is undergoing some major renovations. The Louisville -based company is in the process of completely rebuilding Turfway’s grandstands.
The next step of the process for the Keeneland/Kentucky Downs joint venture is a full KHRC review of the application. Construction of the new track and extension will depend on this timeline. Gabbert noted that they would like to open both around the same time and this could inspire the race tracks for Belmont Stakes and Preakness Stakes, which would please the horse betting providers such as Twinspires and TVG.
While the entire state is heavily leveraged in the horse racing industry, its presence in the western and southeastern part of the state had been lacking. The first plans to enter these markets were announced almost three years ago by Churchill Downs and Keeneland.
Churchill Downs turned its attention to a new harness track in Oak Grove in the western part of Kentucky. That venue first offered live racing last year. It just celebrated the grand opening of its HHR parlor on September 18.
Keeneland’s plans for Corbin never materialized but they were never forgotten. Teamed with Kentucky Downs, this partnership felt that the timing was right to revisit the original initiative.
Key to the overall proposal, the mayors of both Corbin and Williamsburg have thrown their full support behind this project.
Bill Thomason is the President and CEO of Keeneland. He believes this project will only strengthen Kentucky’s horse entire industry by expanding into this underserved market. It will generate hundreds of jobs to enhance tourism and the local economy.
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