Keeneland Pursues Quarter Horse Venture

Keeneland is negotiating the purchase of the Thunder Ridge harness track.

Keeneland has reportedly begun looking into the acquisition of the Thunder Ridge harness track in Prestonburg, Ky., with the intention of creating a boutique Quarter Horse meet, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The Lexington Thoroughbred racetrack and sale company apparently filed paperwork with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Feb. 14 regarding a possible change of ownership of the harness racetrack. Thunder Ridge has a half-mile main track and grandstand seating for 3,000. It runs live harness racing on the weekends in October and November.

The Herald-Leader also reported that Keeneland could purchase the racetrack in partnership with the Nevada-based Full House Resorts, which has operated the Rising Star Casino in Rising Sun, Ind., southwest of Cincinnati, since April 2011. The company also runs casinos in Nevada and New Mexico.

Both Keeneland and representatives with Full House Resorts said there is no timetable for purchasing the track or making any improvements to the facilities.

"At this point, it's not a done deal. But we're excited about the opportunity and hope it comes to pass," Bill May, an attorney for Appalachian Racing, which owns Thunder Ridge, told the newspaper.

Keeneland leaders told the Herald-Leader they wanted to build a "Keeneland-esque facility" to accommodate a boutique Quarter Horse meet of about a dozen race dates in the summer. They expect to be able to offer premium purses through a combination of multi-breed simulcasting and through Instant Racing gaming machines, which are slot-like electronic pari-mutuel games. They are considered pari-mutuel because the outcome of each play is determined by the result of a previously-run horse race and the wagering is pooled.

"We're going to build a modern facility, scaled to the market...that will grow to meet the demands of the area," Keeneland CEO Bill Thomason told the Lexington newspaper.

Instant Racing is currently being operated at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park, which generated more than $3.8 million for purses and the state Thoroughbred Development Fund from September 2011 through December 2012. The two tracks, which pay for the machines and related facility upgrades, collected $15.2 million during the period. Purse accounts received $2.1 million, or 14% of the net track commissions, while the KTDF, which offers purse supplements for Kentucky-bred runners, got $1.7 million, or 0.75% of the total commissions.

The KHRC would have to approve any plans to move Thunder Ridge to a new location or change to Quarter Horse racing. A Keeneland official told the Herald-Leader they are looking at several undisclosed locations near Corbin in the south I-75 corridor.