Kentucky Racing Fund Finalized

Harness racing at The Red Mile

The Kentucky budget bill containing funding to assist any of the state’s harness racing tracks make a bid to host the Breeders Crown in the future became law last week.

State Senator Damon Thayer, a Republican who serves as the Senate Majority Floor Leader, introduced the revenue bill amendment, which creates a reserve account of up to $900,000 USD for a Kentucky track that hosts an international harness racing event that distributes at least $5 million USD in purses and awards.

The account will receive $300,000 USD annually until it reaches the $900,000 USD threshold.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last two or three years,” said Sen. Thayer. “I was just looking for the right opportunity and timing to get it done. Nobody asked me to do it, I just believe that Kentucky should be in the Breeders Crown rotation.

“I had a couple of really good conversations with [Hambletonian Society President and CEO] John Campbell about what it would take to put us in the rotation, so I was able to work with the bill drafter to come up with what I think is a pretty good solution. It essentially sets up a perpetual funding source that renews every time the Breeders Crown comes to Kentucky, so the Hambletonian Society will know that the $900,000 [USD] licensing fee is always here in Kentucky.”

Lexington’s Red Mile has hosted Breeders Crown races on two occasions, including the championship’s inaugural event, the two-year-old colt-and-gelding trot won by Workaholic, on Oct. 5, 1984. Three years later, the track was the location for the Breeders Crown Mare Pace, which was won by Follow My Star.

Since 2010, all 12 Breeders Crown races have been held at a single track.

“We’re just excited about the possibility to get back on that scene,” said Gabe Prewitt, the Red Mile’s vice president of racing. “With everything going as well as they have in the state, with historical racing and the breeding industry and the number of mares skyrocketing, it’s just exciting to direct a small portion of that to host the sport’s premier event. I don’t see how anyone in the state couldn’t be anything but overly excited about the opportunity.”

Kentucky has three pari-mutuel harness racing tracks, with the Red Mile joined by Oak Grove Racing, Gaming & Hotel and Cumberland Run.

“My colleagues received the idea well, there wasn’t any opposition and I’ve gotten great feedback from people in both the Standardbred and Thoroughbred business,” said Thayer. “The Thoroughbred people here understand the Standardbred business; some of them are in both sides of the business. If and when we attract the Breeders Crown here, it’s going to be extremely well received.

“I’m very excited. I look forward to the day that Kentucky is in the rotation to host the Breeders Crown on a regular basis.”

Thayer, whose prior experience in horse racing included working for the Breeders’ Cup, played an instrumental role in advancing the 2021 legislation that brought historical horse racing to Kentucky. The pari-mutuel gaming machines have generated billions of dollars in wagering and fuelled the growth of the industry and purses in the state.

This was Thayer’s final legislative session. The senator, who represents Kentucky’s 17th Senate District, which includes southern Kenton County, and all of Grant and Scott counties, announced this past December that he would not seek re-election in 2024.

“Damon has been the staunchest ally for the entire sport of horse racing, particularly harness racing,” said Prewitt. “His leadership has been instrumental in driving this industry to an entirely different level. We’re going to miss him in that role. The [Breeders Crown funding] is sort of the cherry on top, in my opinion.”

Thayer will complete his tenure in the legislature on Dec. 31.

“It’s been a great ride,” said Thayer. “I never dreamt when I moved here 32 years ago and I knew five people that I would someday serve in the Senate for 22 years and be the longest-serving Republican floor leader. It’s been an absolute privilege. Horse racing, next to my two children, is the greatest love of my life. Now let’s see if we can get something worked out to make [the Breeders Crown] happen in a few years.”


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