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KHRC unanimously approves CDI request to purchase Turfway Park; details, renderings revealed

By Mark Hansel
KyForward managing editor

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) Tuesday unanimously approved a Change of Control Request that will allow Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) to purchase Turfway Park.

The request was supported by Jack Ohio LLC, an affiliate of JACK Entertainment LLC (“JACK”) and Hard Rock International.

The Turfway Park Grandstand as it exists today is seen in the top photo. A rendering of the new facility to be developed by Churchill Downs, Inc, is shown below. The KHRC unanimously approved the sale of Turfway to CDI, which will allow construction on the new facility at the conclusion of Turfway PArk’s 2020 Spring Meet. (provided images, click to enlarge).

A statement released by Jack Entertainment says, in part:

“We know that Churchill Downs has Turfway Park’s best interests in mind…Together Turfway and Churchill Downs will bring an exciting future to this mainstay of the Kentucky Racing Circuit.”

Hard Rock International entered into an agreement to purchase Turfway Park in April in a $780 million deal that also included the JACK Cincinnati Casino.

On Oct. 3, CDI, Hard Rock and Jack announced definitive agreements  that paved the way for CDI to acquire ownership of Turfway Park for $46 million.

That announcement included plans to develop a $150 million state-of-the-art thoroughbred facility on the current Turfway site. That price includes the $46 million for the purchase of Turfway Park.

The approval by the KHRC is the final hurdle for the closing of the transaction, which is expected to take place today. Demolition of the Turfway Park grandstand will begin at the conclusion of the Spring 2020 meet and the new Turfway Park Racing & Gaming facility is scheduled to open in Sumer 2021.

In September, Churchill Downs announced plans to build a $200 million New Latonia Racing and Gaming Facility in Northern Kentucky.

Churchill Downs did not identify a location for the new facility, but applied to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) for the 2020 racing dates traditionally allotted to Turfway Park in Florence. Those plans have now been scrapped.

The move now appears to have been designed to pressure Turfway and it’s ownership group into going forward with a sale to CDI.

According to CDI’s presentation to the KHRC, the new facility is expected to create nearly 400 permanent jobs and an estimated 800 construction jobs.

This conceptual rendering of the new Turfway Park Racing & Gaming facility includes the addition of an inner dirt track to complement the existing synthetic surface (click to enlarge).

Several Northern Kentucky leaders came out in support of the proposed sale to CDI, when it was announced last week.

The KHRC has urged Turfway Park to upgrade the facility for several years and install the Historic Racing Machines (HRMs), also known as instant racing machines, that have become a source of additional revenue at other race tracks in Kentucky.

HRMs have the look and feel of slot machines, but the result is determined by the outcome of a previously run race that is not revealed to the wagerer.

In July, Casino.org reportedan increase of more than 85 percent in total handle for instant racing at Kentucky’s four venues that have the machines.

While there have beens several false starts on renovations, and announcements regarding the installation of instant racing machines, the promised upgrades have not materialized.

The lack of progress has been an ongoing source of frustration for KHRC leadership, which sees the quality of horse racing in Northern Kentucky as being in decline for some time.

Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Brent Cooper expressed support for CDI’s plan for the Turfway site and praised the Northern Kentuckians in leadership positions at KHRC who helped move it forward.

“The Northern Kentucky business community is grateful to Chairman Frank Kling and Vice Chairman Mark Simendinger for keeping Northern Kentucky on the right track,” Cooper said. “Their leadership on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has had a profound impact on the outcome of this transaction and will ensure quality thoroughbred horse racing remains in the Northern Kentucky region.”

CDI released some of its plans for the new facility at Tuesday’s hearing, including:

*A new inner dirt track to complement the existing synthetic surface

*Significant upgrades to the barn area

* Clubhouse / Racing / Simulcast facility with State-of-the-art amenities

*Up to 1,500 Historical Racing Machines

*Conference / Events space for community use on non-race days

*Food and beverage venues offering patrons a variety of options

CDI also revealed the timeline for development of the new facility, which is not expected to impact the live meets at Turfway, but could necessitate the use of a temporary simulcast facility during construction:

CDI also anticipates a positive impact on Turfway Park’s purse programs.

According to the submission to the KHRC, Turfway Park’s purse account is $300,000. CDI calls that amount “drastically low,” and about 70 percent below what is necessary to support Turfway’s purse program, based on last season’s average purse of $11,601.

The submission states those numbers only confirm the need to install HRMs.

As a temporary stop-gap, the Kentucky HBPA, KTA leadership and CDI will utilize a portion of the funds generated by Derby City Gaming at Turfway Park in an amount sufficient to raise purses of the December 2019-March 2020 thoroughbred meet to an average purse/race of $24,000. The amount is more than double Turfway’s average purse per race from the 2018-19 meets.

The long-term plan is for Turfway to open the new HRM facility, which will generate the necessary revenue for permanent purse improvement and a racing product that will keep quality horses in Kentucky throughout the year.

Other plans for the new facility include:

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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