Nearly every Kentuckian knows how to locate the state capital of Frankfort, even though for many of us in the horse industry it's a city we bypass on Interstate 64, the highway that connects Lexington and Louisville. But Frankfort is much, much more than a road marker for people driving to Churchill Downs or Keeneland or to any one of the hundreds of horse farms and related businesses in the region.
Fact is, while the Central Kentucky counties of Fayette, Bourbon, and Woodford may be home to many of the Thoroughbred industry's best known and largest horse farms, and Jefferson County is the site of Churchill Downs, which hosts the world's most famous horse race, Franklin County is where much of the action affecting this industry will take place over the next three months as the Kentucky legislature convenes. I strongly urge people in the Thoroughbred industry to make an organized visit to Frankfort, and suggest Feb. 3 as the date.
There doesn't appear to be a great deal of momentum to support a constitutional amendment giving Kentucky's racetracks an opportunity to compete with casino riverboats poised along the state's border or with tracks in neighboring states enriched by slot machines. Despite the state's massive budget deficit, Kentucky's No. 1 industry has a hard time getting a sympathetic ear, much less a promise of legislative support, on a bill to give voters a chance to decide whether tracks should be permitted to offer casino wagering or slot machines.
All some legislators know about the horse industry is what racetrack lobbyists have told them. Others have preconceived notions that the industry consists of idle millionaires who raise Thoroughbreds as a hobby.
Kentucky is not unique to this situation. Maryland, for example, has a Speaker of the House, Michael Busch, who has shown a total disregard for and ignorance of the horse industry when the subject of casino wagering or slot machines is discussed. "If the Preakness wasn't here, would anybody care?" Busch said to the Washington Post
. "I think the amount of people who care is next to none. The age of the player who bets on horse racing is deceased."
Busch, like many legislators across the country, completely misses the boat on what the "industry" is. In Maryland, it's not the few thousand souls who faithfully attend Pimlico or Laurel day after day, it's the 38,000 people throughout the state whose jobs are connected to horses. The farms, where many of those people work, protect greenspace and add to the state's beauty and character.
Kentucky's horse industry is larger still, and it is not dominated by idle millionaires, according to a 2001 study. Most Kentucky horse farms are smaller than 250 acres, with the median farm home to 34 horses and four full-time employees. Net income for the average farm owner is less than $50,000.
Legislators can't be blamed for not understanding an industry. It is up to that industry to educate public officials about its size, scope, and importance to the state. Obviously, the Kentucky breeding industry's representation in Frankfort has not been as effective as it needs to be. Making matters worse, the Thoroughbred industry is heavily populated with politically indifferent people. In fact, I recently accused one breeder of being apathetic. He said he didn't care.
If you are one of those who care, plan a trip to Frankfort. State legislators will be in town on Feb. 3, a date when breeding sheds have not yet opened. Take a long lunch and drive a farm truck or horse van to the capital to let legislators know what industry you represent. Tell your friends, staff, and horse business associates you plan to spend some time in Frankfort Feb. 3 and convince them the trip may be worth their effort, too. There is strength in numbers.