Quarter Horse Track License On Hold Pending Review

Plans for a Quarter Horse racetrack in southeast Kentucky were detailed before the Kentucky Racing Commission Sept. 24, but the panel said it wants more financial data before it considers granting Southern Bluegrass Downs a racing license.

Southern Bluegrass Racing, owned David Holloway and Tim McCall, would like to build a $13-million facility about 10 miles from the Tennessee border. They hoped to get approval from the commission for three days of live racing in the fall of 2003 to get the ball rolling.

Though there is no serious opposition to a return of live Quarter Horse racing to Kentucky, officials with the state's Thoroughbred tracks said they are concerned about the impact Southern Bluegrass Downs could have on off-track betting parlors, three of which are located not far from the proposed racetrack site in Williamsburg.

In addition, Turfway Park president Bob Elliston said his track already told the racing commission it intends offer limited Quarter Horse racing during its Thoroughbred meets next fall.

During an almost one-hour hearing, two key issues never came up: the prospect of alternative gaming at the state's racetracks, and the division of simulcast revenue should a Quarter Horse track import Thoroughbred or Standardbred signals.

Legislation to permit electronic gaming devices at Kentucky racetracks failed to come up for a vote on the House floor earlier this year. The bill as written allows the devices at tracks licensed for 2001. (Currently, there are eight facilities). A change in the language would be needed to accommodate a new licensee.

On the issue of revenue splits, the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has said it wants to make sure money earmarked for Thoroughbred horsemen isn't siphoned.

"I know this is a Thoroughbred state," said McCall, an attorney who, like Holloway, owns Thoroughbreds. "This track would not compete with the Thoroughbreds. You enhance (the product) with live racing, not with small OTB parlors that are losing money."

The Kentucky Off-Track Betting Corp. facility in Corbin is the company's highest revenue-producer. Southern Bluegrass Downs would be located closer to the Tennessee border than the parlor, and could steal customers, Thoroughbred industry officials said.

Elliston said Kentucky Downs, the all-turf track and simulcasting facility, is losing money with a much stronger product than the Quarter Horse track would offer. "Financially, this just doesn't make sense," he said.

Southern Bluegrass Downs would have a 54,000-square-foot clubhouse, 10 barns, and a lighted racing surface. Average attendance, at least for the first three days, is projected at 4,000, a figure that left one commissioner and some racetrack officials scratching their heads.

"During the week, Churchill Downs is hard-pressed to do 5,000 people," commissioner Richard Klein said.

Commission chairman Frank Shoop said a committee would study the financial prospects of the proposal and report back to the commission, which will meet next Oct. 28. Racing dates for 2003 must be awarded by Nov. 1.