Ladies and gentlemen, the revolution has arrived, and it is a little different than we thought it would be. What we once hoped and prayed for, we now fear with our every breath. Oh, how we long for the simple days when things made sense, and all was well.
Turfway Park lost its September dates to Churchill Downs. They have had them for as long as I can remember, and now they are gone. Not that CD is a bad place with evil intentions, but it will eventually cripple the industry in the northern part of Kentucky. No person, or body of authority is at fault, and this is not an under-handed deal. Turfway needed help, and not even the new ownership could keep this afloat.
I can’t say that everyone just sat on the sidelines and watched. Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park became aggressive, and adopted Instant Racing machines to bolster purses. Churchill is a powerhouse that didn’t install a multi-million dollar lighting system just to light up the Louisville sky 6-8 times a year. They are going to make CD a destination place, right in the middle of college football season with the University of Louisville a stones throw away. Keeneland is a world leader in horse sales, and a guardian of keeping racing pristine and first class. So, where does this leave Turfway Park?
Turfway Park is located in Florence, Kentucky. It has been a place of employment for generations of horsemen, union and non-union personnel, and a host of associated vendors and professionals. With the loss of the September dates, there will be a void. A chasm that may never be filled again. There was going to be a domino effect in the Bluegrass state where one track would fall before anyone took notice. Well, it looks as if that first domino is wobbling.
So many that love the sport and make their living from racing have counted on help from the legislature for years. But that voice that has cried out has not been heeded. I wonder now if anyone will pay attention? Unemployment will rise, and the region will possibly lose racing, forever. This is a timeline we can follow now that competition has grown so heavy. When racing is cut back or discontinued horsemen will leave to find other tracks to run, or just fold up their tents after generations. The many employees from ticket sellers, food service workers, track photographers, video teams, and host of others will have to find something else. Now, add in the fact this is one of the worst times since the depression when looking for work has gotten to be impossible.
The employees at Turfway have kept up their gloves, while the flurry of punches has pounded them into submission. They have no other outlet. Management has tried everything, the community has supported the track, and still it is not enough. Turfway had always hoped that VLT’s or slot machines could be the answer to build purses, and allow them to compete against three nearby casinos with two more on the way. All of this competition is a half hour away from the poly-track oval. But still, Turfway plans on keeping an abbreviated winter schedule. They have not thrown in the towel, and this fighting business is not yet ready to be counted out.
Could they have another racing season? I just don’t know at this point. Since 1959, the track has seen good days and bad. But this one could be tougher than any other faced before. I hate to see the many friends I have known over the years face this uncertainty. Will this be the time that the legislature finally hears the call? Will the new ownership step up even taller and reach into pocket and keep it afloat? They had all hoped for change, but I don’t think this is what they had in mind. When one business fails it will be a short term gain for some. But eventually this process will keep rearing its ugly head until the sport is all but dead and gone. I once read that there would be ten “Super-Tracks”. This would be Florida, New York, Churchill, Keeneland, and California. The rest would just face the music and eventually fade away into the history books. Is this the first to go for Kentucky? Will they follow the many other states that have lost tracks? I never wanted to think the “Super-Track” article could ever come true. But it looks as if the odds are high, and change is gonna’ come.