Forget Kentucky Derby dresses and fancy hats. If Churchill Downs receives state approval to add live winter racing events in 2020, track-goers will be bundled in down coats and beanie hats.
Late Thursday night, the parent company of the famous Louisville track known worldwide for its famous race on the first Saturday in May -- Churchill Downs Inc. -- announced plans to ask the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to do just that.
The powerful racing and gaming company wants to host a winter racing meet from January through March and in December of next year, but in order to do so it would take over dates historically awarded to Turfway Park, a northern Kentucky track owned by JACK Entertainment that is being sold to Hard Rock International.
Mark Dunkeson, CEO of JACK Entertainment, said Hard Rock International has committed to investing more than $100 million at the track, including adding historic racing machines, building race purses and other significant enhancements. He claimed that Churchill Downs Inc.'s attempt to relocate 2020 winter racing dates is an effort to "interfere" with Turfway's sale and vowed to fight to keep the dates.
However, Churchill Downs Inc. called the request a "critical, short-term measure" to support the state's thoroughbred industry until it builds New Latonia Racing & Gaming -- a $200 million racing and year-round training facility it intends to construct in the potentially lucrative northern Kentucky market. Once New Latonia is built, the company hopes to relocate the winter racing dates there.
Although a specific location for the track has yet to be announced, the proposal includes a historical racing facility with up to 1,500 slot-style machines, a clubhouse, 1-mile synthetic main track, stables and possibly a hotel.
And while the company claims the project would create roughly 400 full- and part-time jobs in the area, we hate to see it at the expense of Turfway, a park that has been a significant part of region for more than 60 years. After all, it's competition that drives the industry.