Churchill seeks Turfway’s race dates, proposes new track for ‘neglected’ northern Kentucky

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Fans on the rail and in the paddock cheer on the horses as they come down the wire at Churchill Downs.
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Fans on the rail and in the paddock cheer on the horses as they come down the wire at Churchill Downs.

The corporate parent of the Kentucky Derby announced Thursday evening that it wants to build a $200 million racetrack and gambling parlor in northern Kentucky.

The track, which would be called New Latonia, would usurp the winter Thoroughbred racing dates of Turfway Park in Florence.

Churchill Downs Inc. said it plans to request those dates for the 2020 racing season in its application to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

For next year, Churchill will ask that the winter racing take place at its home track in Louisville, where the Kentucky Derby is raced in May, while the new racetrack is built.

The new track would have stabling, a 1-mile synthetic main track and a dirt track for year-round training, Churchill said. Eventually a hotel may be added.

Churchill said the new track and moving the meet are “a critical, short-term measure.”

Turfway Park, which is now owned by the Hard Rock casino group, which also owns a casino across the Ohio River in Cincinnati, has not installed historical racing gambling machines despite being awarded permission.

Turfway Park would lose its winter racing dates to Churchill Downs under a proposal put forth by Churchill Downs Incorporated on Thursday. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Churchill said that adding the machines would “lead to significantly increased purses and pari-mutuel handle, resulting in increased tax revenues to the Kentucky General Fund, Thoroughbred Development Fund, the Equine Industry Program, Equine Drug Research and the Higher Education Fund,” in its announcement.

The Daily Racing Form reported that Churchill informed the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association about the plan on Thursday.

“Churchill Downs is stepping up to protect and grow Kentucky’s Thoroughbred racing circuit,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack. “Our willingness to make a sizeable investment in the neglected northern Kentucky market is our latest effort to improve Kentucky’s valuable horse racing and agriculture industries.”

Mark Dunkeson, CEO of Jack Entertainment, said Friday that Turfway isn’t ready to yield its ground to Churchill.

“We are shocked and thoroughly disappointed by Churchill Downs’ recent attack on Turfway Park, which has been a significant part of the northern Kentucky community for over 60 years. JACK Entertainment and Hard Rock International will jointly defend the long-standing race dates that have regularly been awarded to Turfway Park and contest the inappropriate actions of Churchill Downs and their attempt to disrupt the northern Kentucky racing community. “

Dunkeson’s statement said Hard Rock is planning to invest $100 million into improving Turfway Park, including the addition of historic racing machines, building race purses and enhancing the racing business.

Churchill Downs last fall opened Derby City Gaming, a gambling parlor, at its Louisville site on Poplar Level Road. And CEO Bill Carstanjen has announced plans to build a hotel and add gambling machines at the main Churchill Downs track.

An artist’s rendering of the the New Latonia racing and gaming facility and hotel proposed for northern Kentucky by Churchill Downs Inc. Rendering submitted by Churchill Downs

“Just as Derby City Gaming’s historical racing machines have supercharged purses at Churchill Downs Racetrack, we plan to do the same for northern Kentucky’s racing fans at New Latonia,” said Flanery. “Our goal is to deliver an ultra-competitive racing product with more entries and high-quality horses that appeal to bettors and horseplayers nationwide.”

Since it opened in September 2018, Derby City had produced about $860 million in handle through the end of August. That has generated $13 million in taxes, including $5.8 million for the general fund.

Additionally, Churchill Downs Inc. and Keeneland are teaming up to build a new racing facility in southern Kentucky that broke ground in April. Oak Grove Racing and Gaming, a $150 million live and historical racing venue, is under construction just outside Fort Campbell.

Churchill is a gambling giant that owns racetracks, the betting platform, and 11,000 slot machines of video lottery terminals and 200 table games in eight states. The company also recently launched into sports wagering.