Prominent owners and breeders in Kentucky are putting together a coalition whose mission will be to educate the public and members of the state legislature on the importance of the horse industry.
Part of the endeavor, which could be unveiled before the May 1 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), is tied to assembling a financial base to support an education and lobbying effort. Though high-profile Thoroughbred owner/breeders are said to be spearheading the drive, it will involve all breeds of horses, sources said.
In 2004, for the third consecutive year, the racing and breeding industry in Kentucky failed to win approval for alternative gaming. Though this year it reached consensus on pursuit of a constitutional amendment, the session proved especially brutal in that legislators were on the attack.
Among them was Rep. Larry Clark, a Louisville Democrat, who sponsored legislation to authorize casinos at racetracks and non-track locations. Clark accused racing interests of being "selfish and shortsighted," among other things.
The industry also failed to win support for tax breaks. A bill to authorize creation of an international wagering hub did pass on the final day of the session.
In comments that appeared in The Blood-Horse
before the 2004 session began, a few breeders said the industry must do a better job in explaining its significance to the state's economy.
"We're a community seen as leaders in the world in the Thoroughbred industry, but we have very little influence in (the state capital of) Frankfort, and get very little legislative help," said John Sikura, owner of Hill 'n' Dale Farm. "We're really frozen out of the process."
Airdrie Stud owner Brereton Jones, a former Kentucky governor, called for an educational campaign in all 120 counties. He said almost every other group is stronger than the horse lobby in the state.
In a survey done this year by the office of Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat, respondents were asked whether the General Assembly should extend the tax exemptions, credits, and deductions currently available to livestock and crop farmers to horse farmers. From 700 responses, 47% said no, 29% said yes, and 24% said they didn't know.
Westrom is co-chair of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Horse Farming along with Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, who pushed for tax breaks during the 2004 legislative session but was unsuccessful.
"It was disappointing to end the session without tax reform for Kentucky," Thayer said. "Gov. Fletcher is committed to tax modernization to help move Kentucky forward and make us more competitive with our neighboring states. I worked with him and his staff on a $14-million horse industry tax relief and breeding incentive program early in the session, but partisan politics killed it before it had a chance to be discussed."
The racing associations in the state have taken heat because they've led the failed push for alternative gaming. Though owners, breeders, and trainers were represented in negotiations through their respective organizations, they haven't publicly rallied around the cause.
"Frankly, I don't think we as an industry have done a very good job, and we all need to take the blame," Jones said in a follow-up interview after the session had ended.