Odds for new horse track up in the air

While a new development may quicken the process for bringing a new horse racing facility to western Knox County, officials with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission have now said they have no plans to consider a new application that would bring a potential $71 million economic boost to the tri-county area.

In a joint statement released Friday, September 15, 2017 from Keeneland and Churchhill Downs Inc. announced a partnership between the two entities to help construct a new state-of-the-art racing facility in Corbin, Ky. The partnership will also seek to bring a new facility to Christian County in western Kentucky. The tracks will feature live racing as well as historical racing machines.

Originally, the announcement from Keeneland and Churchhill Downs Inc. said the racing commission is scheduled to meet on October 17, at which time the applications submitted would be reviewed.

However, Friday night, the commission released a statement saying: “Over the last several months, we have informed Kentucky’s race tracks that we would not consider any applications for new race track facilities in Kentucky. Despite that communication, Churchill and Keeneland have chosen to submit an application for new race track facilities. At this time, neither of us have any plans to take any action related to this application or any other application for a new race track facility. It is our hope that in the future we will be able to develop a process and criteria to determine whether any new race track facilities are needed in the Commonwealth.”

Despite the commission’s statement, Vince Gabbard, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Keeneland and Bruce Carpenter, Director of Economic Development for the city of Corbin, both are optimistic the track will be constructed in Corbin as planned. “I’m just working the project,” Carpenter said in an interview with the Corbin News Journal Tuesday. “I stand by what I’ve said in the past.”

The idea of bringing a track to Corbin isn’t a new one. For over two years, Keeneland has faced several obstacles in constructing their facility, to be named “Cumberland Run.” From endangered bats to licensing issues from a defunct track in Floyd County, the project has seemingly been at a standstill, until the announcement Friday.

“I think partnering with Churchhill brings a lot more clout to the project,” said J.M. Hall, Knox County Judge-Executive. “Churchhill is the biggest in the nation when it comes to name recognition. I think the partnership will make it stronger and more stable.”

The economic advantage to having the new facility in Corbin can be a potential lifesaver for Knox County. “With the pensions going up, we need the extra revenue,” said Hall. “Over 100 full-time employees, seasonal employees, and the potential for spinoff businesses in the area around the track will be a huge benefit to Knox County’s economy.”

Carpenter echoes Hall’s comments. ““I just think the fact that you have Churchill involved with Keeneland is a major step forward,” Carpenter said. “Locally, we are here to support the effort in anyway we can.”

The original opening date for the Corbin facility was slated to be September 2016.

“I’m glad this is coming to Knox County. I’m more hopeful than ever,” said Hall.