Kentucky Blue

by Ed Meyer

posted on April 17, 2009 in General Discussion | No Comments >>

Lexington is referred to as the Horse Capital of the World, “but when that is said it really means we are the ‘Horse Jobs Capital of the World’,” Keeneland President Nick Nicholson told the April meeting of the Lexington Forum. Without major changes, he said, those jobs could wither away.

Nicholson told those assembled at his track the day before the start of Keeneland’s Spring Meet, that a measure to allow for video slot machines, or what the industry dubs “Video Lottery Terminals,” is needed to keep Keeneland, the state’s other tracks and the industry as a whole in the commonwealth competitive.

“If it was a battle fought on the tracks, we’d win it,” Nicholson said, but Kentucky doesn’t subsidize its purses with expanded gaming as 11 of the 12 horse racing states in the region do. “The states that will supplement their purses” will make “irrelevant” tracks the places with the top purses, he said, pointing to Philadelphia Park. In 2000, Philadelphia Park saw annual purses totaling close to $30 million (below Churchill Downs and nine spots above Keeneland in the parks with the top 20 purses), but since Pennsylvania allowed expanded gaming in 2004, it has climbed from its rank as the 10th largest track in the country for purses in 2000 to almost $50 million in 2007, making it second only to Belmont. Should trends continue, Nicholson said, Philadelphia will be first by a mile in 2013 with more than $80 million in purses, while Churchill would hover under the $40 million mark and Keeneland would be out of the top 20.

And that means more than lower quality races at Keeneland and Churchill, Nicholson said, as the horse industry has a total economic impact of $3.5 billion in Kentucky and employs 96,000. A total of 194,000 Kentuckians are involved as horse owners, employees and volunteers. “It permeates much of our culture in Kentucky, all the way from county fairs to the Kentucky Derby,” Nicholson said, adding that $758 million of the economy comes from showing horses.