Kentucky Downs provides historical horse racing blueprint
jennie rees

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Wednesday, September 27, 2017) — In 2011, Kentucky Downs paid out a total of $769,000 to horsemen in race purses. That number for 2017 was $10,269,000.

As the result of the success of historical horse racing this year and an agreement with the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Kentucky Downs distributed $8,619,000 to horse owners at its five-date meet (averaging $1,723,800 per day) and also transferred $1.65 million in purses and Kentucky-bred purse supplements to Ellis Park. That accounted for 26.5 percent of the record $214,000 a day that the Henderson track paid to horse owners.

Kentucky Downs contributed $1.35 million to Ellis in 2016 and in the past has transferred money into the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund accounts at Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Turfway Park as well.

“We went five years, 10 years where Kentucky racing was really not doing as well because Ellis Park was struggling and we didn’t have a circuit,” said commercial breeder Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud in Paris, Ky. “…. We all know that racing is the locomotive that pulls the whole train. With Ellis being strong, and Churchill and Keeneland already strong, there’s a circuit here again. It’s added a lot of value to Kentucky-breds.

“Look, Kentucky Downs runs only five days and it’s an incredible amount of money. But their foresight by taking some of that income to make the circuit stronger I think has resulted in the rejuvenation of the Kentucky racing circuit.”

Rejuvenation means jobs have stayed in Kentucky. Trainer Bret Calhoun says he employs 20 people for 36 horses at Churchill Downs. Those numbers from just one barn are supplemented by additional employment from veterinarians, farriers, feed and tack companies and others involved in the horse industry’s agribusiness. Calhoun said Kentucky Downs and a stronger Ellis keep horses in the state, which benefits Churchill and Keeneland’s fall meets as well.

“The historical horse racing has done wonders for the entire Kentucky circuit, whether it be Churchill, Keeneland or Ellis, ” Calhoun said. “It had gotten to the point where you couldn’t stay here in the summers. Since historical horse racing has kicked in and supplemented Ellis’ purses, it’s made a huge difference. You can tell over the last couple of summers, the fields have gotten much stronger. There have been some top maidens come out of there and go on and do great things. It’s given local horsemen the option of staying home and not having to travel to other places during the summer.”

The state also is a significant beneficiary.

Historical horse racing has contributed more than $13.8 million in state pari-mutuel tax, reflecting 65 percent of the total Kentucky excise taxes on wagering on horse racing in fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30. The largest contributor to the overall pari-mutuel excise tax, including live racing and simulcasting, was Kentucky Downs at $8.99 million or 42.5 percent of the $21.16 million total paid by Kentucky tracks, followed by Keeneland ($4.01 million), Churchill Downs ($2.41 million) and Ellis ($1.76 million).

“Many people were involved in the development of historical horse racing, and it’s very gratifying to see that formula working to the benefit of every sector of the Kentucky horse industry,” said Kentucky Downs president and part-owner Corey Johnsen, who also is chairman of the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP).

KEEP’s second annual Equine Industry Conference Oct. 15-16 at Embassy Suites Lexington includes a panel discussion on historical horse racing’s impact. Participating are Kentucky Horse Racing Commission chair Frank Kling, Exacta Systems’ Patrick Neely, Bandoroff and Johnsen.

The KEEP conference attracts the leading names and voices in Kentucky’s horse industry. Go to to register or for more information, including sponsorship opportunities. Other panel topics include the economic effect of the horse industry in Kentucky, issues facing our workforce and what to expect with recent and potential future laws that affect the horse economy.

Tags: Kentucky Downs Kentucky horse racing Kentucky Equine Education Project Kentucky horse industry Ellis Park Churchill Downs Keeneland