by Kathleen Adams
With time running out to obtain 2004 dates, the Kentucky Quarter Horse Racing Association board of directors met Sept. 6 to discuss whether to accept an offer by a Standardbred track to host some Quarter Horse races, and it also got unexpected support from a Thoroughbred breeder.
When The Red Mile, a harness track located just outside of downtown Lexington, presented its application for 2004 Quarter Horse race dates to a subcommittee of the Kentucky Racing Commission Sept. 2, members of the Kentucky QHRA were taken by surprise.
"We've never spoken with them," Kentucky QHRA president Dwaine Cissell said. "It's a harness track and we're concerned about the distance of the straightaway and track conditions."
The organization has negotiated for more than a year with Thoroughbred racetracks and thought it had reached an agreement with Kentucky Downs, a turf track in the southern part of the state. But Kentucky Downs failed to request Quarter Horse dates at the Sept. 2 subcommittee meeting.
Now, the Kentucky QHRA has until the end of September to broker a deal with a host racetrack or face the prospect of not racing in 2004. At the hastily called board meeting, Kentucky QHRA members expressed concern over the lack of a true straightaway at The Red Mile. They said racing at the facility would force their horses to start on a turn, and could possibly cause some horses to jump the rail.
Discussions at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington had just gotten under way when board members were thrown another surprise. It was announced that John T.L. Jones, Jr., owner of Walmac International near Lexington, was waiting in his office along with Joe Costa, president and chief executive officer at The Red Mile. Once assembled inside Jones' office, the Thoroughbred owner/breeder, who also owns and races Quarter Horses but is not a member of the Kentucky QHRA, said he thought The Red Mile presented the organization with a good opportunity.
"I've always been of the opinion that all breeds of horse compliment each other," Jones said. "I'm a Thoroughbred breeder, obviously, but this helps everyone."
While Costa didn't offer the Kentucky QHRA specifics on how Quarter Horse racing would be implemented at harness track, he said The Red Mile didn't make the request for race dates lightly.
"My horsemen aren't thrilled about having Quarter Horse racing at The Red Mile," he said. "But I told them for the health of The Red Mile, we should do it."
And Costa admitted he doesn't know much about the Quarter Horse industry. "We're going to try to do the best we can," he said. "Will it be perfect? I don't know. If you want to wait for a better deal, go ahead."
The Red Mile applied for only two pari-mutuel Quarter Horse dates, but there are far greater implications. The introduction of live racing would open up the state to year-round Quarter Horse simulcasting. That prospect apparently doesn't sit well with the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which has resisted efforts to hold Quarter Horse races at Thoroughbred tracks.
Last year, the racing commission denied an application for dates from a group that proposed a Quarter Horse track for southeastern Kentucky.
While the Kentucky QHRA board of directors didn't reach any firm conclusions at the close of it meeting, they did agree to visit The Red Mile and continue a dialogue with Costa. The deadline to submit applications for racing dates is Oct. 1. The Kentucky Racing Commission will announce the 2004 dates Nov. 1.