Turfway Park: Construction on Northern Kentucky's horse racing track begins after a delay
The grand opening is not open to the public, though it will be streamed on Facebook. This story has been updated.
Northern Kentucky's Turfway Park horse racing track has been through a lot.
Over the past two years, a series of events threatened the track's very existence. First, people feared acompetitorwould swipe the track's few remaining race days doled out by regulators. Then, a Kentucky Supreme Court decision ruled a major funding source for all tracks was illegal.
Those threats seem to be gone now. On Friday, Churchill Downs will host a groundbreaking event at the Florence track for a $145 million renovation project, according to a press release.
For subscribers:Northern Kentucky's horse industry finally got off-site gambling machines. Now it may lose them and their revenue.
Say hello to Turfway Park Racing & Gaming.
Churchill Downs will replace the rusty grandstand, install 1,500 "historical horse racing" machines that closely resemble slot machines, build a new clubhouse, a one-mile synthetic track, an inner dirt track, and other gaming machines. The venue is expected to open in the summer of 2022.
It's estimated to create about 800 construction jobs and 400 new full- and part-time positions on top of what Turfway employs now.
'Turfway Park is being held hostage':Regulators and lawmakers blame owners for NKY race track's decline
Churchill Downs will hold its groundbreaking ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday at the track. it is not open to the public, though the event will be streamed on Facebook.
People will hear from:
- Gov. Andy Beshear .
- Boone County state Sen. John Schickel.
- Kenton County state Rep. Adam Koenig.
- Florence Mayor Diane Whalen.
- Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen.
- Turfway Park Racing & Gaming general manager Chip Bach.
The track's rocky history
The track's most recent troubles began in 2019.
Local race fans worried the track would cease to exist when Churchill Downs went after a chunk of races which regulators typically gave to the Florence track. Regulators blamed the demise of the track on its former owners, who didn't put in Historical Horse Racing Machines — essentially slot machines — that other tracks used to raise revenue.
Then, the region rejoiced when Churchill Downs instead bought the track and created the revitalization plan.
A look back:Churchill Downs to open $38M off-track horse-betting site Friday in Newport, Ky.
In 2020, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled the machines were illegal, and Churchill Downs delayed the project.
In February, Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill to legalize the machines, which Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, signed. The bill changed the definition of pari-mutuel wagering in Kentucky statutes to include the machines.
Julia is the Northern Kentucky government reporter through the Report For America program. The Enquirer needs local donors to help fund her grant-funded position. If you want to support Julia's work, you can donate to her Report For America positionat this website or email her editor Carl Weiser at [email protected] to find out how you can help fund her work.
Do you know something she should know? Send her a note at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JFair_Reports.
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The history behind Thoroughbred racing at Turfway Park spans three centuries. The track's roots reach from the first race at the original Latonia Race Course to today's call to the post, and the pulse-pounding rush of a great stretch run hasn't changed a bit in all that time.
The original Latonia Race Course opened in 1883 in Latonia, Kentucky, 10 miles north of present-day Turfway. Through the 1920s, Latonia was a force in racing, offering top horses, top jockeys, and the country's richest purses. Its major race, the Latonia Derby, for years outshone the Kentucky Derby. The Great Depression and changing markets forced Latonia's gradual decline, until it closed for good in July 1939. The property was sold to Standard Oil of Ohio, the track was torn down, and racing disappeared from Northern Kentucky for two decades.
Drawing on the history and tradition of the original Latonia, a new Latonia opened in Florence, Kentucky, in August 1959. After early financial challenges the new track found its footing in the mid-1960s and introduced such innovations as winter racing and night racing. In 1982, its major race, the Spiral Stakes, attracted the sponsorship of bourbon maker Jim Beam and eventually achieved Grade II status. That race, a Kentucky Derby prep, is today the $500,000 Grade III Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes.
Investors led by Jerry Carroll bought Latonia in 1986, renovated it, and renamed it Turfway Park. In 1994, Carroll also introduced the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions, five stakes races leading to the Breeders' Cup championships. Carroll sold the property in 1999 toHarrah’s Entertainment, GTECH, and the Keeneland Association. In 2005, GTECH sold its interest to the two remaining partners. In July 2010, Harrah's Entertainment became Caesars Entertainment.
Regardless of its name or owners, Turfway has long enjoyed a reputation for innovation. On September 18, 1982, then called Latonia, the track became the first in Kentucky to offer simulcast wagering. That day our patrons saw Lemhi Gold win the Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park. On September 9, 1987, Turfway became the first track in Kentucky to offer Pick 3 wagering. A year and a day later, we introduced simulcast wagering to Kentucky when we sent our full card to Ellis Park. In 2003 we became the first track anywhere to install the Super Carrel, where you can watch replays, place bets, and even order food without leaving your seat.
That tradition of innovation took a giant step forward in September 2005 when Turfway became the first racetrack in North America to run races on Polytrack, a hybrid of synthetic and natural materials that remains consistent in virtually all weather conditions and is remarkably safer for horses and riders.
On September 26, 2009, Turfway was fully accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, reflecting compliance with standards for injury reporting and prevention; creating a safer racing environment; aftercare and transition of retired racehorses; uniform medication, testing, and penalties; and safety research. The track was fully reaccredited in 2011.
Today Turfway Park employs about 100 people year-round, a number that jumps to 300-plus during the track's fall, holiday, and winter/spring live race meetings. Not included in that number is the ever-changing population of jockeys, grooms, trainers, exercise riders, and others on the backside.
Turfway Park is an Americanhorse racing track located just outside the city limits to the north of Florence, Kentucky, about 10 miles (16 km) south of the Ohio River at Cincinnati. The track conducts live Thoroughbred horse racing during two meets each year—Holiday (December), and Winter/Spring (January to late March/early April)—and offers year-round simulcast wagering from tracks across the continent.
In 2009, the Horseplayers Association of North America introduced a rating system for (currently) 62 Thoroughbred racetracks in North America. In 2016, Turfway was ranked #11.
History and information
Turfway Park opened in Florence, Kentucky, in 1959 as Latonia Race Course. The track is located about 10 miles south of the original Latonia Race Track in Covington, Kentucky, which hosted Thoroughbred racing from 1883 until it was torn down in 1939. The original Latonia was home to the important Latonia Derby, which rivaled the Kentucky Derby in prestige for many years and shared many of the same horses. The Florence track's name was changed to Turfway Park when Jerry Carroll and his partners purchased the facility in 1986.
In 1999, Carroll sold the track in equal parts to lottery equipment manufacturer Gtech, gaming conglomerate Harrah's Entertainment (later renamed as Caesars Entertainment), and the non-profit Keeneland Association, which operates the Lexington, Kentucky, race track and Thoroughbred auction facility. In 2005, Gtech sold its interests to the other partners, leaving Keeneland and Harrah's with 50-50 interests.
Turfway is home to the Jeff Ruby Steaks, established by then-general manager John Battaglia in 1972 as the Spiral Stakes. Battaglia envisioned a race from which 3-year-olds would "spiral up" to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and then to the Kentucky Derby. The race was sponsored from 1982 through 1998 by Jim Beam Distillers, and for one year (1999) by GalleryFurniture.com. Lane's End Farm, one of the world's leading Thoroughbred breeding and sales operations, sponsored the race from 2002 through 2010. Horse farm giant Vinery Stables sponsored the Spiral in 2011 and 2012, and Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati (renamed as Jack Cincinnati Casino in 2017) took over sponsorship in 2013. In 2018 the race was renamed the Jeff Ruby Steaks (a homophone of the word Stakes) as part of a three-year agreement with the owners of Jeff Ruby's Steakhouses. The race attained Grade II status in 1988 but was downgraded to Grade III in 2011.
Turfway Park was also home to the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions, patterned after (and a prep for) the Breeders' Cup World Championships. The card included five stakes, four of them graded, including the Grade II Kentucky Cup Classic, and was traditionally run four weeks before the Breeders' Cup. The Kentucky Cup series was last run in 2011.
In 2008, the Turfway Park Fall Championship (G3) was named a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race, with its winner guaranteed a spot in the Breeders' Cup Marathon. The race last ran in 2010, the year winner Eldaafer also won the Breeders' Cup Marathon.
Turfway combined with Churchill Downs, Inc. and other investors to purchase Dueling Grounds Race Course near Franklin, Kentucky; Turfway retains a small share in the track, since renamed Kentucky Downs.
In 2005, Turfway Park became the first track in North America to install Polytrack, an all-weather product, as a racing surface. The visible component combines silica sand, wax, and various fibers; the hidden drainage component allows water to drain quickly through the surface, eliminating the freeze-and-thaw cycles that plagued the track during its winter meets. With the installation, Turfway's track condition is always officially listed as "fast," no matter the weather.
Turfway Park was the fictional setting of the 2005 adventure/comedy movie Racing Stripes. However, no filming took place at Turfway Park; the track was mentioned in name only.
In 2012, Dan Gilbert's Rock Gaming (later renamed as Jack Entertainment) bought a 40 percent stake in Turfway Park from Keeneland. Rock Gaming bought out Caesars's 50 percent stake in the track in 2015.
In April 2019, Jack Entertainment agreed to sell its stake in Turfway Park to Hard Rock International. The transaction was part of a $780-million deal that would also include Jack Cincinnati Casino (which accounted for $745 million of the sale price).Churchill Downs, Inc. later replaced Hard Rock as the buyer, agreeing to pay $36 million to Jack and $10 million to Hard Rock. Churchill completed its purchase of the property in October 2019 and said it would demolish the existing grandstand and build a new facility including a historical racing parlor.
The track is a one-mile oval with quarter-mile and 6½ furlong chutes. The stretch covers 970 feet. In 2020, the Polytrack surface was replaced with Tapeta, a synthetic surface consisting of a mixture of silica sand, wax, and fibres. Turfway Park has no turf course.
The grandstand was razed in 2020 to make way for a new facility. The property contains stabling for about 1,000 horses.
- Mike Battaglia (1973–2016; he continues as an associate vice president)
- Jimmy McNerney (2016–Present) Track Announcer/Television Host
Turfway Park has offered the following stakes races. * indicates active races.
The following Graded events were held at Turfway Park in 2019.
- Winter/Spring Meet
- Holiday Meet
- ^"Rock Gaming equity stake in Turfway Park OK'd". The Cincinnati Enquirer. April 16, 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-05-19.
- ^Karen Farkas (February 26, 2015). "Rock Ohio Ventures buy Caesar's 20 percent interest and now owns Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, ThistleDown and other entities". The Plain Dealer. Cleveland, OH. Retrieved 2019-04-10.
- ^Sherri Welch (February 26, 2015). "Gilbert's Rock Gaming affiliate gains sole ownership of Horseshoe casinos in Ohio". Crain's Detroit Business. Retrieved 2019-04-10.
- ^"Turfway Park kicks off Holiday Meet; gains approval to install Instant Racing machines". Northern Kentucky Tribune. December 2, 2015. Retrieved 2019-04-10.
- ^"Hard Rock Entertainment Purchases Turfway Park". bloodhorse.com. The BloodHorse. April 8, 2019. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
- ^"Vici Properties Inc. to acquire Jack Cincinnati Casino and lease to Hard Rock International" (Press release). Vici Properties. April 5, 2019. Retrieved 2019-04-10 – via BusinessWire.
- ^ abTim Sullivan (October 3, 2019). "Churchill Downs is set to buy Turfway Park after tense dispute". Louisville Courier Journal. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
- ^Steve Watkins (October 17, 2019). "Turfway Park renovation plans revealed". Cincinnati Business Journal. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
Coordinates: 39°01′31″N84°38′06″W / 39.025202°N 84.634906°W / 39.025202; -84.634906
BOONE COUNTY, Ky. (WXIX) - The last beam for the new Turfway Park Racing and Gaming Facility was put in place Friday, moving the project another step closer to completion.
Churchill Downs CEO Bill Castanet says work on the horse racing track has not been a smooth ride.
”Over the last number of months, we’ve had a lot of challenges,” explained Castanet. “COVID’s continued to surge; as a result of that, we’ve had labor shortages. We’ve had price increases. We’ve had changes in the global supply chain that made this process harder than it might ordinarily be.”
Turfway Park is still on track to open in 2022, despite the challenges mentioned by Castanet.
Once complete, it will offer the largest simulcast area in the state and will reinvent purses for the Kentucky circuit.
Gov. Andy Beshear, who was at Friday’s ceremony, says horse racing is a big piece of Kentucky’s economy. The industry brings in $3.4 billion each year on its own, the governor said.
That is why he says it is critical to keep investing in its infrastructure.
”Horse racing, it is a major draw contributing to Kentucky’s $8.9 billion tourism industry,” Gov. Beshear said. “It is clear to see that the horse racing industry is essential. It is indispensable. It is a major part of our economy, and we have to always treat it as such.”
Since the announcement of the $145 million project, the governor says it has created a draw to the area, bringing more than 2,400 jobs in the past few months.
”We have seen so much growth and so much development and much positive energy in our community,” said Florence Mayor Diane Whalen “This is the diamond in a rough and we are very appreciative for Churchill for polishing that diamond for Florence and Boone County.”
Turfway Park will continue to offer live Thoroughbred racing and historical racing machines to allow customers to bet on live races around the country.
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