May 10, 2016
Tom LaMarra, Blood-Horse
Breeders’ Cup intends to legislatively pursue a pari-mutuel tax break for its 2018 World Championships at Churchill Downs, but the form it takes could hinge on input from members of the Kentucky General Assembly.
Breeders’ Cup last year won a $1.1 million tax break via “emergency” legislation passed during the 2015 legislative session. The bill was necessary because legislation approved in other years expired after Breeders’ Cup failed to return to Kentucky within a designated period.
When the return to Churchill was announced in late April 1, officials said they would approach lawmakers in 2017, a year before the track hosts the Cup.
“Any time we pursue legislative issues we’re always very conscious of working with the affected host track,” Breeders’ Cup president Craig Fravel said May 9. “We’ll be talking with Keeneland and Churchill about supporting the legislation.”
Keeneland, which last year hosted the event for the first time, has expressed interest in hosting it again. The earliest it could do so is 2019.
Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, who as Senate Majority Floor Leader controls which bills are heard, reiterated a position he took last year. Thayer believes the tax breaks should be an incentive, not a reward.
“I’m pleased to hear the Breeders’ Cup is coming back to Kentucky,” Thayer said. “Churchill Downs is the best track in the country to host the event, and that’s coming from someone who was part of the senior negotiating team (at Breeders’ Cup) for eight years. But it’s going to be hard to convince me to award an incentive for an event that’s already coming to Kentucky. It needs to be retooled.”
Thayer said he wants to discuss “designing a new incentive regarding frequent visits to Kentucky.” He said given state budget woes in Kentucky, “every dollar has to be scrutinized.”
“It’s a tougher sell from a public policy standpoint,” Thayer said. “We’ve supported these tax incentives multiple times. There’s no bigger fan of the Breeders’ Cup than me, but we have to take a new and different approach.”
Fravel said he doesn’t believe a statutory mandate is necessary.
“I think Breeders’ Cup has demonstrated a commitment to returning to Kentucky on multiple occasions,” Fravel said. “By the time 2018 is done, we would have been in Kentucky for 10 of 38 events, which is more than 25%.
“Obviously a huge part of our business is here in the form of nominators and breeders. I’m not sure (having it in statute) adds to the commitment we’ve demonstrated.”
Fravel noted the California legislature opted “not to tie our hands to any particular schedule. I think (our commitment) to Kentucky should speak for itself.”
Churchill last hosted the World Championships in 2010-11. The next three were held at Santa Anita Park in California, which will serve as host this year. The Cup will stay in California for 2017 at first-time host Del Mar.