KEEP Promises Its Members: 'We'll Keep on Going'

Shaking off defeat of the casino bill in the recent legislative session, the Kentucky Equine Education Project showed a fresh outlook for the remainder of 2006 in a public meeting May 9 at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The organization's staff, three Kentucky legislators, and dozens of KEEP members representing various horse breeds were present to discuss the strengths and shortcomings of the past year, as well as hopes for the future. KEEP, which has raised more than $5.5 million to fund educational efforts, also established a $140,000 grass-roots fund--up from last year's $125,000--to assist local equine groups.

One major focus of the night was House Bill 263. Unsuccessful this year, the bill sought the removal of the sales tax only horse owners pay for purchase of feed, tack, and show equipment. Other questions and concerns were brought up as to how the organization would pick up the pieces and continue toward its goal of casino gaming at Kentucky racetracks.

KEEP plans to get the bill introduced earlier next year and get more politically involved in this year's November election.

"We need to find out who is involved in the horse industry and who is not," KEEP chairman Brereton Jones said. "We'll ask where they stand on certain issues. It's all about education. This isn't an organization that's for horses and nothing else."

Rep. Ed Worley said that in its current state, Kentucky isn't operating on a "sound revenue basis."

"To maintain state government at the level we're spending, the answer is expanded gaming," Worley said. "Our forefathers feel the legislature should be made up of all kinds of people in Kentucky. The difficulty in that is getting legislation through with that diverse of a group. It isn't always political, but a level of understanding."

Worley said educating people and reaching out to those in all walks of life is contagious. "It effects politics in all ways," he said. "Keep spending your money to educate people and this will all work out in time."

KEEP Fayette County team leader Mike Owens spoke about the Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeders' Incentive Fund. Owens and his wife, Jeanne, received a $25,000 check for breeding Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) winner Sinister Minister.

"I am going to prove that all horses work for Kentucky," Owens said. "KEEP has made big changes here in the state--education has taken place. It surprised me how a lot of legislators don't know about the horse industry and sales-tax equity issues."

Jones said he was optimistic about the closing of Stewart Bainum's Dinwiddie Farm in Virginia because the family's mares were sent to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky to participate in the state breeders' fund.

An outspoken voice in the audience was KEEP member Emily Dennis, who operates Big Red Stables with her mother near Harrodsburg, Ky. Dennis said she was disappointed in KEEP's emphasis on gaming because it took away from the sales-tax exemption issue.

"This is something that effects almost all people with horses," she said. "It doesn't make any sense to buy a horse in Kentucky and have to pay sales tax to keep it here."

Jones said the sales tax and expanded gaming issues were the top two on KEEP's to-do list. "Because this is a young organization, however, we have to prioritize," he said.

"We've got to keep the motivation going," KEEP executive director Jim Navolio said. "We want to keep with our grassroots efforts and not shy away from the issues. After our 21 remaining community meetings, we hope to have legislation beginning in January."