Grand Reopening this Friday, March 23
Jennie Rees

FRANKLIN, Ky. — When Steve Thurmond helps Kentucky Downs celebrate its Grand Reopening this Friday, March 23, his motivation isn’t the t-shirt given out to the first 100 arrivals. He’ll be on hand to commemorate the 170 jobs that Kentucky Downs has created.

The Grand Reopening will feature other giveaways of merchandise, free play and cash spread throughout the festivities, which begin at 10 a.m. CT Friday and run until the facility closes for the night in Saturday’s wee hours. Nashville radio personalities do live remotes and two bands will perform. But for Thurmond, as executive director of the Franklin-Simpson County Chamber of Commerce, the special attractions afford a chance to publicly rejoice in what Kentucky Downs provides the community on a daily basis. Thurmond sees the most extensive renovation since the track opened in 1990 as a grand step in Kentucky Downs’ evolution as a destination attraction.

“Kentucky Downs has a huge impact economically on Franklin and Simpson County — not just because of the 100-plus jobs they provide, but the fact that it has become a destination for so many people from outside coming into the community,” Thurmond said. “Every time someone comes into Franklin to visit Kentucky Downs, there are opportunities for restaurants, gas stations, motels and hotels. All of that contributes greatly to our community.

“In addition to bringing people in to spend money, Kentucky Downs is a huge supporter of the community in general. They support so many programs, from the Boys and Girls Club to the Chamber of Commerce to the Industrial Authority (the area’s economic-development agency) — the list goes on and on in all the ways Kentucky Downs serves our community.”

Kentucky Downs employs a workforce of 170. And after more than a year of construction, the staff is ready to cheer the renovation’s completion by throwing a public party.

“Kentucky Downs’ owners have been investing and reinvesting in the facility since buying the track in 2007,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager. “The recently completed project was the most extensive since the original building of the racetrack. Our guests have been great sports about the inconveniences caused by construction, and we invite everyone to celebrate with us as Kentucky Downs moves into a new phase.

“We already offer America’s highest purses during our five-date thoroughbred race meet in September, and Kentucky Downs has morphed from being viewed as a novelty into national leader. But we also are a year-round entertainment facility. We are proud to work with Franklin and Simpson County’s government, tourism and economical-development officials to make Kentucky Downs and Franklin a bucket-list destination for racing fans, sports fans and those who want to have a good time, whatever the time of year. We want to show that off at the Grand Reopening.”

Admission and parking are also free at Kentucky Downs. Those attending the Grand Reopening must be at least 21 years old.

They will first be greeted by a new porte cochère that has allowed Kentucky Downs to install valet parking ($5, and free to Diamond or Platinum Players Club members). Guests will find a new bar and lounge area designed for watching sports and racing, listening to live music or enjoying time out with friends, along with revamped gaming areas, including new high-limit and non-smoking sections. The NCAA basketball tournaments’ regional action will be shown on the track’s high-tech 10 X 6 foot GoVision screen that provides outstanding lounge and outside terrace viewing.

The renovation also included the first floor’s Lucky 7s Diner, open from 10 a.m. to midnight.

Two of Nashville’s best-known radio personalities — certainly among the most memorable nicknames — will further stoke the party, with JACK 96.3-FM’s Moose at Kentucky Downs from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and WSIX 97.9-FM’s Lunchbox from the Bobby Bones Show on hand from 1-3 p.m.

Live music takes over during the late afternoon and throughout the night, with the Janine Le Clair Band from 3-7 p.m. and the Chris Hudson Band from 8:30 p.m.-1 a.m.

Guests will find 47 different historical horse racing games among Kentucky Downs’ 750 Exacta Systems terminals. Simulcast wagering is available on tracks across America, starting at 11:35 a.m. with Gulfstream Park and going well into the night.

Kentucky Downs’ Player Club members can cash in big, with a drawing each hour from 1-10 p.m. to award a year of free play in the historical horse racing terminals (conditions apply). Players Club members playing with their cards will be randomly selected to participate in timed cash grabs in the popular Cash Cube, keeping any money deposited into the designated receptacle. Guests can participate by signing up for a Players Club membership, which is free and offers rewards such as free play, discounts and eligibility for drawings and promotions.

“While we’re celebrating our most elaborate renovation project, be assured that Kentucky Downs is not through finding ways to improve and innovate,” Nicholson said. “That’s one finish line we don’t plan to reach.”