Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2002 3:04 PM
Posted: Tuesday, March 5, 2002 3:01 PM
I've never been to an old-fashioned tent ministry revival, but the crowd fervor was straight out of Elmer Gantry when Henryk de Kwiatkowski took the stage following his purchase of Calumet Farm at the March 26, 1992, bankruptcy auction.
Just as actor Burt Lancaster converted a tent full of repentant sinners with Bible-thumping sermons as Brother Gantry in the 1960 movie, de Kwiatkowski won over all of Lexington as the savior of one of the region's most treasured landmarks. The former Polish aviator's $17-million purchase of Calumet Farm was greeted warmly, but his pledge to change "not a single blade of grass" brought on a thunderous ovation from people hoping for just that kind of miracle.
If de Kwiatkowski had taken a page from the Sinclair Lewis story of the Bible Belt evangelist, he might have passed the collection plate and raised enough money to pay for Calumet right then and there. Fortunately, Calumet's white knight needed no such assistance.
De Kwiatkowski detested the idea that the historic farm might have to be "dismantled" for development purposes following its descent into bankruptcy. He said the thought of a housing subdivision on the farm was an insult to him and anyone who had ever laid eyes on the pristine property. To borrow a line from Brother Gantry, de Kwiatkowski has said, essentially: "As long as I got a foot, I'll kick development. And, as long as I got a fist, I'll punch it. And, as long as I got a tooth, I'll bite it. And, when I'm old and gray and toothless and bootless, I'll gum it till I go to heaven and development of Calumet goes to hell." Well, maybe he wasn't quite as descriptive as Lancaster was in the movie.
De Kwiatkowski has made good on his pledge to preserve Calumet in the image of its founder, William Monroe Wright. To this day, Calumet remains an undisputed gem, a great source of pride for both the surrounding community and the Thoroughbred industry. LEVELING THE FIELD
While Calumet may be a wonderful symbol of racing's heyday, it doesn't represent the industry's mainstream rank and file, which has been severely tested recently by an expansion of gambling throughout the country.
The vast majority of horse farms are not owned by wealthy businessmen who can afford to spend their leisure time in the Bahamas (nothing wrong with that, incidentally). Most of them are owned by hard-working men and women whose dedication to breeding, raising, and training horses has kept the Thoroughbred industry afloat during difficult times.
These same men and women will be an endangered species if state legislators in areas where casino gambling has taken hold fail to level the playing field.
In Kentucky, for example, there are 2,800 horse farms employing 16,600 people, with another 36,400 jobs indirectly linked to the industry. With neighboring states Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri offering casino gambling, Kentucky is losing an estimated $1 billion in business
The biggest losers are the state's racetracks, which can only offer pari-mutuel wagering. As a result, purses at Kentucky's tracks have declined, and the demand for the agricultural product bred and raised at the state's Thoroughbred farms also has fallen.
Five other states have passed legislation permitting racetracks to operate slot machines. None of those states--Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, and West Virginia--can come close to the claim that Kentucky makes when it says the horse is its No. 1 agricultural product. Support for legislation permitting Kentucky's tracks to operate slots (referred to as electronic gaming devices in the bill) will help ensure a healthy future for that industry.
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