Sports Outside the Beltway

Kentucky horse racing ‘in serious jeopardy’

Say it ain’t so. From

Under the backdrop of an empty paddock at Churchill Downs, officials of Kentucky racetracks–including The Red Mile’s president and CEO Joe Costa–gathered for a press conference Wednesday afternoon to plead their case for expanded gaming in the Bluegrass State.

In making his comments at the Louisville track which was closed Wednesday for live racing after a request to cut one day from its weekly schedule was granted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Costa noted that Standardbred racing “is the canary in the coal mine,” noting that between The Red Mile, Thunder Ridge and Player’s Bluegrass Downs there are just 76 days of live harness racing in the state in 2009.

Costa used a college basketball analogy in comparing Kentucky’s plight against neighboring states which have expanding gaming at its tracks. Costa posed the question to the crowd of about 150–which included major media outlets from across the state including Lousville and Lexington and several horsemen including Bernard “Chip” Wooley, the trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and veteran trainer Bernard Flint–that universities such as the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky would not be able to compete on the basketball court if they were unable to offer scholarships as schools such as Duke, North Carolina and Kansas are.

Bob Evans, president of Churchill Downs, bluntly stated, “If you think it’s bad now, it’s only going to get worse.” Evans then added, “The time to act is now. We simply can’t wait any longer. All we are looking for is to pass a simple piece of legislation.”

Even if the tracks get the legislation they want, it hardly guarantees horse racing in Kentucky will survive. As we’ve seen in case, after case, after case, slots and other types of gambling don’t draw sufficient people to race tracks to keep them operating as their owners hoped and planned to.

I love horse racing myself, but can understand why most people have little interest in going to the track. You watch a race for two minutes, then basically do nothing other than handicap the next race and place your bet till the next post time that isn’t for another 20-30 minutes. Simulcasts from other tracks help to fill the time, but the number of people in the United States who enjoy the ‘Sport of Kings’ any more is continues to dwindle. I’m not optimistic about the future of horse racing.

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