PRESTONSBURG — While a Senate bill to allow instant racing in Kentucky awaits approval in Frankfort, patrons and employees of Thunder Ridge Racetrack in Prestonsburg can only wait to learn their fate.
It was announced last week ago that Keenelandias seeking to purchase the assets, including the racing license, of Thunder Ridge, under the condition that the instant racing bill, Senate Bill 204, is passed, or they receive a favorable verdict in the related Supreme Court case.
Though for people who regularly frequent Thunder Ridge, the potential loss of the license is merely the latest fiasco to befall the race track due to poor management.
Dr. Howard Higgins, who has followed racing and the racetrack for a number of years, says politics and greed have gotten in the way of building a good thing at Thunder Ridge.
Higgins describes the owners as “absentee landlords” and says, “They own this place for one reason, to hope gaming comes in.”
“This place has tremendous potential if it was promoted,” said Higgins. “It could be a lot better than what it is.”
According to Higgins, the current ownership group has done the bare minimum to keep its racing license in good stead, just in case Kentucky ever passes casino gaming laws which would allow for a casino to open up on site, but has done little to improve the racetrack or promote racing in the area.
Don Cantrell, a horse owner, says if the track does close down he will miss it. “It’s a good place to train in the winter time.” Cantrell says there are currently two trainers working out of the facility with nearly 40 horses on site.
“This affects jobs, 10 to 12 people work here, and people training horses on the back side. Nobody knows what’s going to happen to them,” said Opal Butcher, an employee with the track who has been working at the facility since it opened 18 years ago.
Ervina Horn says it would be sad to see the track close down because of the close bonds many of the patrons and employees have formed over the years.
“It’s like ‘Cheers.’ These people are family,” said Horn.
Situated in a seemingly obscure location along Route 3, Thunder Ridge has ties to horse racing greatness. Mike Lauffer, a part owner of the 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford and native of Johnson County, is a regular at the facility.
The Senate bill, upon which much hinges, was introduced by Sen. Johnny Ray Turner (D-29) on Feb. 15 and has sat in the Licensing, Occupations, & Administrative Regulations Committee since Feb. 19.
Questions still remain as to whether or not Floyd County would be able to acquire rights to another off-track betting parlor. Also still unclear is what will happen to the rac track in the event the license is sold, but according to Floyd County Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall, the county would look to sell the property.
“The county owns the grandstand and a portion of the parking lot,” Marshall said. “If and when the property becomes available to be sold, then I would entertain the thought of ridding this county of its indebtedness by bond issues. If the license is procured, then property will be available to be put up for sale, or acquisition by someone other than the county.”
Marshall said he could not say for certain whether or not the county could force a sale of the property.
Keeneland is reportedly interested in moving the racing license to Corbin, where it would build a quarterhorse track along the fertile I-75 corridor.
Floyd County Treasurer David Layne says the current principal on the Thunder Ridge bond is $2,000,100 with an additional outstanding interest of $337,400, bringing the total buyout of the lien t0 $2,337,500.