By Eric Steinkopff / Staff Writer
A group of businessmen is scheduled to make a pitch Monday for the last remaining quarterhorse racing track license in Kentucky to be issued in Laurel County.
According to Kentucky Horse Racing Authority Executive Director Lisa Underwood, a group calling themselves Sprint Racing Partners submitted an application to build a quarterhorse racing facility on a tract of land along Kentucky 80 just west of London.
“They will make a brief presentation in front of the Authority Monday, April 16,” Underwood said Wednesday. “This is just the initial application. There will not be any action on Monday.”
Following such an application, Authority Chairman Bill Street would typically appoint a committee to review the proposal and they can take action in a number of ways including interviewing the applicants, visiting the site and doing research on their own behalf, Underwood said.
Officials said that there is no specified committee size or timetable for such a review, but the remaining license is very limited.
“It’s hard to tell how long the process will take - there is only one license left to run a racetrack,” Underwood said. “We want to run a circuit so that horsemen can go from one (track) to another.”
The Sprint Racing Partners group includes former horse racing official John Jones Jr. and at least six other experienced businessmen, according to Laurel County Judge-Executive Lawrence Kuhl.
“The investors are from all over the continent - Texas, Mexico and some other places out west,” Kuhl said. “(Jones) put together some people who have experience in food, entertainment and horse business - people who know what to do and who have the money to make it happen.”
The proposed site is about 103 acres roughly two miles from Interstate 75 exit 41 on Kentucky 80 near an existing Little League Baseball complex and Optimist Club gymnasium.
The site was once under consideration for an outlet mall, but that deal fell through more than 10 years ago, Kuhl said.
“This will be a new, state-of-the-art facility with a very attractive racing environment,” said Kuhl, who touted the area as ripe for such an endeavor.
“Within a 25-mile radius we have 150,000 to 175,000 people - just outside the county lines,” Kuhl said. “Within a 100-mile radius we have 1,700,000 people.”
Proponents believe that the venue will attract people from northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia, as well as eastern Kentucky.
The site will be designed for the shorter and squatter quarterhorses, which are the sprinters of the equine world, as opposed to thoroughbreds, which are distance runners.
For an initial estimated investment of about $20 million the track should require 60 to 80 full-time people and as many as 100 more for part-time work during the horse racing season, officials said.
According to Kuhl, there is even an oval track around the grounds that could be used for trotters - jockeys who ride on two-wheeled buggies behind their mounts.
Others point out that the excitement could revitalize local agriculture for grain to feed the horses and places to breed, board, raise and train the future champions.
The track grounds would also serve as a new venue for other attractions, such as rodeos and concerts roughly nine months out of the year - when quarterhorses aren’t racing.
“We hope to have the first events next summer,” Kuhl said. “I recommend that some people get on the inside track for corporate suites.”
London-Laurel County Tourism Commission Director Ken Harvey has nothing but good to say about the venture.
“When it was originally brought up they were looking at Williamsburg about a year ago. My understanding is that there is one license left and they are looking for development in southeastern Kentucky,” said Harvey, who encouraged Laurel County residents not to miss the “chance of a lifetime.”
“They have to stay far away from other tracks (because) they are trying to do what’s best for the industry.”
He described it as a major development and entertainment area that would also increase revenues for restaurants, motels and other service organizations in western Laurel County.
“I’ve seen photos of some race tracks in other towns and the potential of the facility is unreal,” Harvey said. “We already have a dragstrip and motocross racing, so when you add in horse racing - there’s no doubt that we’d benefit economically from tourism and the jobs it would create. It would be awesome.”
By Eric Steinkopff / Staff Writer