Anne M. Eberhardt

KY Horse Industry Plans Rally at Capitol

The Kentucky equine industry is planning a June 17 rally in Frankfort.

The Kentucky Equine Education Project is organizing a rally June 17 in the Capitol Rotunda to drum up support for legislation that would financially assist the horse industry.

The rally begins at 10 a.m. EDT on the third day of a special legislative session in Frankfort, the state capital. On the call for the session is legislation to authorize video lottery terminals at Kentucky racetracks and provide about $29 million a year in tax breaks on equine-related materials.

The rally is similar to one held in Ohio in May. More than 300 people in that state’s horse industry rallied in the state capital of Columbus for support of a plan to install VLTs at the state’s seven racetracks.

The Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, a member of KEEP, said it may provide chartered transportation to Frankfort if there is enough interest for the June 17 event. The bus or busses would leave from the Kentucky Horse Park; the KTA is asking interested parties to call 859-381-1414.

Ellis Park, meanwhile, is organizing a free charter bus that will leave the western Kentucky track at 6 a.m. CDT June 17. The track is taking reservations through noon June 15 at 812-435-8906.

“I cannot stress how important it is for people who care about the Kentucky horse industry and Ellis Park to attend this rally,” Ellis Park owner Ron Geary said in a statement. “We will show Frankfort how strong this industry really is and why it is important to save it.”

Ellis Park opens July 11 for a 23-day meet. It requested and received permission to cut its meet in half to conserve purse money.

KEEP has been circulating a petition asking legislators to vote on and approve the racetrack VLT bill offered by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who called the special session for June 15. Only the governor can set the agenda for such sessions.

Under the bill, 14.5% of net VLT revenue (after winnings are paid) would go toward purses and breed development programs for Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse racing. Another 1% would fund the proposed Kentucky Equine Breed Authority, which would promote non-racing breeds and economic development opportunities in the horse industry.

Thoroughbred racing’s share would be awarded as follows: 81.33% for purses and purse supplements, with 10%-40% of that money used for Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements, and 10%-20% for a new Kentucky Thoroughbred claiming fund.

The Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeders’ Incentive Fund would get 18% of the share. Similarly, the Kentucky Standardbred Breeders’ Incentive Fund would get 17.5% of harness racing’s share.

Industry officials have said the importance of the legislation to the future of equine breeding in the state shouldn’t be underestimated.

“It is life and death,” Alan Leavitt, a Standardbred breeder and member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said of the legislation.

Leavitt noted how the Pennsylvania breeding industry has been impacted by racetrack slot machines. He said Hanover Shoe Farms, a prominent Standardbred nursery in Pennsylvania, received a check for $1.2 million in breeders’ awards; many breeding operations got $200,000-$300,000.

Leavitt said even his wife Meg’s Walnut Hall Ltd. in Central Kentucky received $101,000 in Pennsylvania breeders’ awards.

“It’s great,” Leavitt said, “but by the same token, it makes you wonder why we’re keeping open in Kentucky when so much more money is available elsewhere.

“Walnut Hall puts about $2 million a year into the Kentucky economy. I can’t believe it makes any sense to push us out of Kentucky and suddenly have no payroll here. There would be 27 people from our farm looking for jobs. When these (horse industry) jobs are gone, they aren’t coming back.”

It’s unclear when during the special session the racetrack VLT bill will be addressed. The session is expected to last longer than a week.