Sale would end racing at Thunder Ridge
by Jack Latta
PRESTONSBURG — As news spread Friday of a potential purchase of Thunder Ridge racetrack by Keeneland, many were left wondering what would become of the $2 million-plus bond for which the county owes.
In a Lexington Herald-Leader story published Friday, it was revealed that Keeneland has filed paper work with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for a potential change in ownership of the Thunder Ridge harness track in Prestonsburg.
In a statement released by Keeneland CEO, Bill Thomason, the letter of intent to purchase Thunder ridge is contingent upon the confirmation — either by legislative or judicial means — of the historical racing administrative regulations already approved by Gov. Steve Beshear and the KHRC and whose products already are in place at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park.
Kenneland is reportedly interested in moving the racing license to Corbin, where it would build a quarter horse track along the fertile I-75 corridor, where it would likely look to benefit from Instant Racing if passed in the Kentucky Legislature. Keeneland will be partnering with Full House Resorts in it’s acquisition of Thunder Ridge.
But for the Floyd County fiscal court, it signifies the potential removal of a financial albatross.
According to Floyd County Attorney Keith Bartley, this deal will likely lift a significant debt burden off of the county. Bartley said he has spoken to state Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, and that Turner has assured him that any deal with Keeneland would take care of the lien against the county.
The legislative means to fulfill Keeneland’s contingency, a bill to legalize Instant Racing, was filed by Sen. Turner on Friday.
There was some initial concern though as to whether or not the county might get stuck with the remaining principal from the Thunder Ridge note.
“He (Turner) basically said that he would get the information so that we can feel protected,” Bartley said of the sale to Keeneland, adding that the lien is one of the most important issues facing the county.
Thunder Ridge was constructed and licensed by Appalachian Racing in the early 1990s with the assistance of $2.7 million bond from the county. According to Bartley, for a number of years the group only paid the interest on the bond, until former Judge-Executive Paul Hunt Thompson spurred the group to make payments toward the principal.
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 buy out of the lien t0 $2,337,500.
According to Bartley, while that lien is in play, bankruptcy by Appalachian Racing would be disastrous for an already financially burdened county government.
“It was a deal the county should have never been in,” Bartley said. “Had Appalachian Racing filed for bankruptcy, they would have buried us with that note.”
While Bartley admits a sale would not put any more money into the county’s coffers, he does say removing that debt load, which he likens to a boulder hanging over one’s head, should make county officials breathe easier.
According to Julie Balog, director of communications with Keeneland, the letter of intent outlines the purchase of the assets, which include the racing license, but not the land. Balog says that the property disposition would be between Appalachian Racing and the county.
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