AQHA Hopes to Bring Live Sport Back to Kentucky

by Kathleen Adams

Quarter Horse racing ended in Kentucky nearly 15 years ago, but members of the American Quarter Horse Association met June 10 in Louisville to discuss how to bring the sport back to the Bluegrass state.

Keith Kleine, senior manager of race marketing for the AQHA, said the organization's research indicates there's an increased interest in Quarter Horse racing due in part to its exposure on the TV Games Network.

"There's a demand for wagering," Kleine said. "We want to bring simulcasting to Kentucky, but to do that, we must run at least one live race.

Before that can happen, the AQHA needs to find a way to win the cooperation of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Kleine said that when he initially approached Turfway Park with the idea of hosting Quarter Horse racing, the racetrack was receptive. The Kentucky HBPA, however, blocked the proposal.

"We don't want to take a piece of the Thoroughbred pie--we want to help grow the pie," Kleine said. "And we certainly don't want to be in a situation where we can't fill races. We feel we could definitely support our purses with our own simulcast money."

Kentucky HBPA executive director Marty Maline, who attended the AQHA meeting, acknowledged that in the past, Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse interests came close on a deal for a mixed meet, but in the end, Kentucky HBPA members feared they would lose purse money and simulcast revenues.

Maline said in the future, he wouldn't rule out the possibility of the Kentucky HBPA changing its position on Quarter Horse racing. Maline even suggested the two groups could join forces on the issue of electronic gaming devices at the state's eight racetracks when the Kentucky legislature reconvenes. (A bill prepared by the industry earlier this year included provisions for Quarter Horse simulcasting.)

James Noel, president of the Quarter Horse Racing Association of Indiana, said his group dodged several roadblocks before Quarter Horses were allowed to race at Hoosier Park.

"It's going to be the same in Kentucky," Noel said. "But people do bet Quarter Horses, and you've got to be persistent. When we started in 1997, we had three $10,000 races. Purses this year are close to $300,000 for 36 races. And last year, our handle was $2.4 million.

Kleine proposed that the AQHA immediately set up a task force that will hold meetings throughout Kentucky on the issue of racing. Kleine said ultimately, horse racing benefits from bringing Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses together.

"A number of people like Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas, and R.D. Hubbard are involved with both breeds," Kleine said. "It will increase customers at the racetracks, and it's a breeding opportunity because we breed to Thoroughbreds."

According to statistics, Kentucky ranks 33rd nationwide in Quarter Horse population with 33,101, and has 13,000 Quarter Horse owners. At one time, live Quarter Horse racing was held at Paducah's Bluegrass Downs, now a Standardbred track, and the shuttered Riverside Downs in Henderson.