Red Mile closing for a while

The Red Mile, Lexington's historic harness racing track, will probably close next month for winter training, something that has kept harness racing going in the dark months for decades.

The owners have informed Kentucky harness horsemen that the barns and track will be closed from around Nov. 15 until July 2009, when quarter horse racing returns.

Joe Costa, president and CEO of The Red Mile, said the training is not sustainable.

"We've always lost money on winter training," Costa said. As the winter community dwindled from about 300 horses in 2001 to about 100 now, Costa said, it has become less economically viable to keep the barns open and the track maintained when there is no live racing.

He said the track will still be open for simulcast betting.

Horsemen have asked to lease the barns and track, but "it doesn't really work in the business model to do that," Costa said. He would not say how much it would cost to keep the facility open.

Bill Napier, executive secretary of the Kentucky Harness Horsemen's Association, said horsemen are still exploring their options with the track's owners and hoping to come up with a solution.

Ordinarily, the horsemen's association does not deal with matters outside of live racing and simulcasting, Napier said. "But because this involves a large number of local established horsemen, we're trying to intercede to keep it here," he said.

Costa said the change will affect a small number of horse trainers, some of whom will go to private local training tracks. Some trainers will probably move to states that have more harness racing and more lucrative purses, such as Indiana and Pennsylvania, both of which now have expanded gambling.

"This is just a natural evolution. The horses are going to go where the money is," Costa said.

He said the winter shuttering is not an indication that the harness track is dying.

"I don't think it makes The Red Mile any less viable," Costa said.