Breeders Crown is one step closer to coming back to Kentucky

On Thursday, the Kentucky House passed a bill that would allocatefunding for a major international harness racing event in the Bluegrass State. The bill now awaits governor Beshear’s signature.

by Dave Briggs

The Red Mile is one step closer to playing host to the Breeders Crown after the Kentucky House of Representatives passed Kentucky state senator Damon Thayer’s amendment to House Bill 8 late on Thursday night (March 28). If the bill is signed by governor Andy Beshear, it would provide a maximum of $900,000 every three years for a Kentucky track that plays host to an international harness racing event that distributes at least $5 million in purses and awards.

The Red Mile’s president and CEO Joe Costa told HRU that there is still a long way to go before the famed Lexington track could play host to the Breeders Crown, but passage of the bill was terrific news.

“I’m very excited,” Costa said. “I think the state of Kentucky should be proud. I think the breeders should be proud. I think people that race horses should be proud to put a spotlight on the state’s standardbred industry and the opportunity to be national news.

“This speaks a little bit of how far the Kentucky program has come. I would think this is a great opportunity for all the standard participants and different avenues of the business in our industry to highlight what they do here in Kentucky.”

Costa said this is just the first step toward the Crown coming to The Red Mile. The next is having the governor sign the bill.

“We expect the governor will support this vehicle to give an opportunity to the standardbred racetracks in Kentucky to invite the Breeders Crown to come back to Kentucky,” Costa said.

“Once executed by the governor, it will provide an opportunity for Kentucky to get in the loop. At this time, I don’t have the authority to speak for The Red Mile. I have to hear what [owners] George [Segal], Frank [Antonacci] and Joe [Thomson] have to say because they will have to provide some money to do it. Nonetheless, it’s an opportunity for Kentucky to highlight the state and its standardbred program. So, stay tuned. But, I would think that this is something that The Red Mile would be interested in exploring. There are a lot of steps before we get to that point, but we’re generally excited about the opportunity for Kentucky.

“Speaking as a civilian and a fan of standardbred racing for a moment, I can imagine what a wonderful event could be presented to the standardbred universe [at The Red Mile].”

In the meantime, Costa said Thayer deserves tremendous praise and thanks for his efforts to support standardbred racing in Kentucky.

“We need to celebrate Senator Damon Thayer,” Costa said. “It was his support for the horse racing industry and his passion for the standardbred industry thanks to his roots all the way back to Michigan and being buddies with Sam McKee. That has led to his support for the standardbred industry and being a friend of the horse racing industry in Kentucky. He was the one that carried the ball across the goal line. So, he’s deserving of the credit.”

Thayer is a Republican who serves as the Senate Majority Floor Leader. He is completing his 22nd and final year in the Senate representing Kentucky’s 17th Senate District, which includes southern Kenton County, and all of Grant and Scott counties.

“My goal is to see Kentucky part of the Breeders Crown rotation,” Thayer told the USTA’s Ken Weingartner. “That’s the language we came up with to try to get us in the running. The licensing fee to host the Breeders Crown is $900,000. So, I wanted to set up a perpetual fund that would give a Kentucky track the impetus to make a bid for the Breeders Crown.”

Costa said the way he understands it, the funding would provide $300,000 a year up to a maximum of $900,000 until it is drawn upon.

Should governor Beshear sign the bill, The Red Mile’s board of directors would next have to make a decision about whether they wish to enter the rotation for the Breeders Crown. The event, which will be at The Meadowlands this October, currently rotates between The Big M, Woodbine Mohawk Park and Harrah’s Hoosier Park.

The Red Mile has played host to Breeders Crown races on two occasions, including the championship’s inaugural event, the 2-Year-Old Colt Trot in 1984. In 1987, the Lexington track played host to the Crown Mare Pace.

Since 2010, all 12 Breeders Crown races have been held at a single track.

In other Kentucky horse racing news, on Thursday the Kentucky House of Representatives also passed Senate Bill 299 sponsored by Thayer. If it becomes law, as expected, it will create the Kentucky Horse Racing and Gaming Corporation, effective July of 2024.

The new corporation would replace the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and create a standalone government agency that would oversee horse racing, sports gambling, and charitable gaming.