12/01/2015 4:24PM

Kentucky: Injunction delays Quarter Horse discussion


The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Tuesday was stopped from considering a request by Keeneland to go forward with a new Quarter Horse track in Corbin after a struggling harness track in the state filed suit to delay discussions of the proposal.

Thunder Ridge, a harness track that is all but bankrupt, filed a request on Monday evening for a temporary restraining order to stop consideration of Keeneland’s plans, and a judge in Floyd County, where Thunder Ridge is located, granted the injunction. Although the commission and Keeneland separately filed legal actions seeking to have the injunction lifted, an appeals court allowed it to remain in place temporarily, requiring the commission to suspend the item on Tuesday’s agenda.

Keeneland and Thunder Ridge have been in discussions for more than a year over Keeneland’s plan to buy the track’s racing license and transfer it to the Corbin area as part of a plan to run a gambling parlor in the southeastern part of the state. But Keeneland abruptly reversed tack on the plan last week, cutting off the talks while applying to the commission for an entirely new license for a Quarter Horse track. The license, the state’s ninth, is the last available under state law.

Jason Nemes, the attorney for Thunder Ridge, said after the meeting that Thunder Ridge and Keeneland “still have a contract” in regard to Keeneland’s plan to acquire the track. He said the track filed the request for the restraining order because “this whole process just needs to slow down” while Thunder Ridge attempts to discern the impact of the issuance of a ninth license.

“That’s something we all need to go through, the tracks and the commission,” Nemes said. “There’s the possibility of dilution in the market, with having more tracks than are maybe needed, all those things.”

Keeneland has a powerful presence in Kentucky, and its requests are generally viewed favorably by the racing commission. Thunder Ridge, on the other hand, has been taken to task by the commission over the past year because of unpaid bills to other tracks and what commission staff have called inadequate communication from the track’s owner.

Keeneland has been eyeing the southeastern part of Kentucky for a gambling parlor due to the success of so-called “historical horse racing” machines at Kentucky Downs, a track near the border of Tennessee in the middle part of the state. In addition, Kentucky’s legislature is expected to once again consider legalizing casinos next year, and previous plans to authorize casino gambling have often tied the licenses to racetracks.

Keeneland is already a partner with the Red Mile, a harness track in downtown Lexington, on a gambling parlor housing 800 of the historical horse racing devices, which closely resemble slot machines.

At the Tuesday meeting, the commission granted approval for Turfway Park to operate 250 of the machines, making Turfway the fifth Kentucky track to get approval. The track does not yet have a firm timetable for when the machines will be up and running, track officials said, but it is widely expected that the machines will be installed sometime after the track’s winter-spring meet in 2016.