LEXINGTON, Ky. (Monday, October 19, 2015) – The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) announced today that Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., 35 miles north of Nashville, Tenn., has earned reaccreditation from the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance.
Originally opened in 1990 as the steeplechase venue Dueling Grounds, the mile-and-five-sixteenths turf course was renamed Kentucky Downs in 1998. In 2007 it was purchased by a group of investors who helped to add Historical Horse Racing games that have increased purse money to unprecedented levels. September’s 2015 race meeting set new records for handle ($16.8 million), single day handle ($5.07 million), purses paid ($6.6 million) and average field size (10.6 horses per race).
The reaccreditation of Kentucky Downs was the culmination of a lengthy process that began with the track’s completion of a 48-page written application and continued as the track hosted several meetings with Alliance officials. An on-site review included inspections of all facets of the racing operations. Interviews were conducted with track executives, racetrack personnel, jockeys, owners, trainers, veterinarians, stewards and regulators. The inspection team was comprised of Jim Gates, consultant and former general manager of Churchill Downs; Dr. Ron Jensen, DVM, former equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board; Mike Kilpack, security and integrity consultant and past chairman of the Organization of Racetrack Investigators; and Steve Koch, executive director of the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance.
Alliance certification standards address an extensive list of safety and integrity concerns within six broad areas: injury reporting and prevention; creating a safer racing environment; aftercare and transition of retired racehorses; uniform medication, testing and penalties; safety research; and wagering security.
“The Alliance is especially impressed with Kentucky Downs’ small-track footprint achieving big-track results in the areas of safety and integrity,” said Koch. “Kentucky Downs clearly is committed to a grade one impact on the North American racing landscape and we applaud the positive examples they set.”
Kentucky Downs received its initial Alliance accreditation in 2011. All accreditations and re-accreditations carry an effective period of two years.
“I’m a big believer in having standards for safety within our industry,” said Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen. “Someday every track needs to be part of this program and racing commissions should include in their rules that you have to be accredited to get a license to operate. There’s nothing more important to Kentucky Downs than safety and we’re finding more and more that if we do a number of simple things that we can have a lot of success.”
Kentucky Downs is one of 23 racing facilities fully accredited by the Alliance that together host 94 percent of Grade I stakes and attract more than 70 percent of North American pari-mutuel handle. The others are Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, Canterbury Park, Churchill Downs, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Gulfstream Park West, Indiana Grand, Keeneland, Laurel Park, Los Alamitos Race Course, Monmouth Park, Pimlico Race Course, Santa Anita Park, Saratoga Race Course, Suffolk Downs, Sunland Park, Turfway Park and Woodbine.
The NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance is a standing organization whose purpose is to establish standards and practices to promote safety and integrity in horseracing and to secure their implementation. Corporate partners of the Alliance include Lockton Insurance and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Information on the Alliance, including the Alliance Code of Standards, can be found at NTRAalliance.com.
Q&A WITH KENTUCKY DOWNS PRESIDENT COREY JOHNSEN:
‘THERE’S NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT TO KENTUCKY DOWNS THAN SAFETY’
Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen has been in the Thoroughbred racing business for more than 30 years, mostly as a racetrack executive. He has been involved in the opening or re-opening of four different tracks: Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Okla.; Lone Star Park near Dallas; Hipódromo de las Américas in Mexico City; and Maroñas National Racetrack in Montevideo, Uruguay. He led Lone Star Park through its hosting of the 2004 Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships before assuming executive positions within the Magna Entertainment Corporation. In 2007 Johnsen and Nashville businessman Ray Reid formed a partnership to purchase a majority interest in Kentucky Downs.
On the occasion of Kentucky Downs’ third two-year accreditation by the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance, Johnsen was interviewed by Jim Mulvihill of the NTRA on topics including Historical Horse Racing, the business sense of a focus on safety and what the future holds for his popular Franklin, Ky., racecourse.
Jim Mulvihill: Could you refresh my memory on how you came to be a part-owner of Kentucky Downs?
Corey Johnsen: I put together a group of partners and we were able to contact Brad Kelley, who was the majority owner of Kentucky Downs at that time. Our meeting with him was very interesting. He basically said that he was willing to sell us the track because he believed that we had a chance to make a difference helping the Kentucky horse industry, as well as Simpson County, where the track is located and Brad was raised. We were able to make a deal, and in 2007 we took over the reins.
In the early years it was a little light. We offered less than $1 million dollars in purses for our first few meetings and that was over anywhere from four to six days. To come to a point where we’re offering more than $7 million in purses during a season is very gratifying. I believe that Kentucky Downs has added value to Kentucky-breds and has brought attention to the fact there’s lucrative purse and Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund money available.
We’ve been able to make the strides because we have an alternative revenue source and that’s pari-mutuel wagering on historical horse racing. We began offering that type of wagering in 2011 and the whole situation changed. It allowed us to do the things we’d always wanted to. Like any business we want a reasonable return on investment for our partners, but also we want to make a difference in the horse industry and promote everything that’s right about our sport.
JM: Could you have envisioned in 2007 that you would have gotten to this point so quickly?
CJ: In 2007 we were hopeful that we would be in this position with an alternative form of revenue but nothing really happened from 2007 to 2010 in terms of legislation. So taking the regulatory approach to create a new pari-mutuel wager on Historical Horse Racing basically saved Kentucky Downs and, I think, is going to make a huge difference in the Kentucky racing and breeding industry.
I don’t think people understand how important it is that the Red Mile and Keeneland have spent more than $40 million opening a first-class Historical Horse Racing and gaming center in Lexington. That’s a great market and they basically have the gaming exclusive for it. You’re going to see in 2016, and especially 2017, the purses at Keeneland are going to be tremendous. And I believe the resurgence of the Red Mile is going to bring back the Kentucky Standardbred industry.
JM: There’s a lot more to the success and popularity of Kentucky Downs than just Instant Racing. What are some of the other strides that have been made there that contribute to your positive reputation?
CJ: The foundation for any racetrack’s success is its track surface. We’ve placed a great emphasis on the safety and consistency of our turf course. We brought in