'Shocked' Turfway Park plans to fight Churchill Downs dates takeover

Janet Patton, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Horse Racing

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Turfway Park, which is in the middle of changing hands, plans to fight moves by Churchill Downs Inc. to take away the northern Kentucky's track's racing dates.

"We are shocked and thoroughly disappointed by Churchill Downs' recent attack on Turfway Park, which has been a significant part of the northern Kentucky community for over 60 years," said Mark Dunkeson, CEO of JACK Entertainment, which is selling the track to Hard Rock International.

"JACK Entertainment and Hard Rock International will jointly defend the long-standing race dates that have regularly been awarded to Turfway Park and contest the inappropriate actions of Churchill Downs and their attempt to disrupt the northern Kentucky racing community," Dunkeson said.

Churchill Downs Inc. announced Thursday that the Louisville-based gambling and racing company is applying for the traditional winter racing dates that Turfway has held and plans to build a new $200 million gambling parlor, hotel and racetrack, New Latonia.

Racetrack president Kevin Flanery said the move was critical to preserving Kentucky racing, which has been buoyed by money from historical racing gambling machines at several tracks. Turfway has not installed them but Churchill Downs said it would seek to put in 1,500 machines to generate racing and tax revenue.

"Churchill Downs is stepping up to protect and grow Kentucky's Thoroughbred racing circuit," Flanery said in a news release. "Our willingness to make a sizeable investment in the neglected northern Kentucky market is our latest effort to improve Kentucky's valuable horse racing and agriculture industries."

However, on Friday Dunkeson said that Hard Rock "has committed to regulators and Kentucky leaders to investing over $100 million into improving Turfway Park including the addition of historic racing machines, building race purses and significant enhancements to the racing business."

Turfway has submitted an application for its usual December, January, February and March racing dates. Churchill Downs, under the banner of "New Latonia" also requested those dates. The racing commission's dates committee will meet before the end of the month to discuss the calendar, which must be finalized by the end of October.


Churchill said Thursday that they would ask to move the 2020 winter races to Louisville while the new facility is built.

Dunkeson said that move "serves only the best interests of Churchill Downs as part of their desire to restrict competition within the Kentucky racing market for their own financial gain by interfering with the Turfway sale and blocking the Turfway enhancements without regard for the economic opportunity for Florence and Boone County or the traditional racing circuit."

In April, JACK Entertainment announced plans to sell Turfway Park as well as the JACK Cincinnati Casino to Hard Rock International for $780 million.

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