John Schickel: Successful Derby shows Kentucky’s beloved horse industry has come charging back

Despite the difficulties brought on by COVID-19 over these past 14 months, I was happy to join my fellow Kentuckians in witnessing the Kentucky Derby once again showcasing an excitement only our Commonwealth can offer.

I long for the day when packed grandstands rumble with the enthusiasm of spectators. Although there were still restrictions on this year’s derby, I am proud of the months of work leading up to the most thrilling two minutes in sports. Lawmakers, the Governor, the horse racing industry, and many others worked together to make sure one of our signature industries was as strong as it could be.

This past March, I had the honor of speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony at a beloved horse racing park in Northern Kentucky, the historic Turfway Park. Some $145 million is being invested into renovations that will strengthen our horse racing industry. I take great pleasure in this track being located in Northern Kentucky.

As a state senator representing Northern Kentucky, Turfway Park is special to me. Still, I would be remiss in not mentioning other wonderful tracks within our states like Ellis Park, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Oak Grove, The Red Mile, and of course, Churchill Downs. While the horse racing industry is on the decline from a national perspective, Kentucky is bucking that trend, continuing to grow and succeed. Some like Turfway, Red Mile, Ellis Park, and Kentucky Downs are renovating and expanding. Oak Grove just recently opened early last year.

These are great trends to see. I am a lifelong horse racing fan, and this industry holds a special place in my heart. It also plays a huge role in our state’s identity; one we should not — and that the Kentucky legislature did not — take for granted.

People from across the globe want to visit our beautiful state because of this industry. It is a pastime that we are glad to share with the world. It brings Kentucky revenue that allows us to meet the needs of our people, and the $3 million purse for the derby is an exciting prize for competitors.

When looking at the equine industry as a whole, it combines to generate $6.5 billion in direct and indirect economic activity and employs over sixty thousand people. The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks alone account for over $350 million, which is why Senate Bill (SB) 120 —passed during the most recent legislative session — was so important.

This bill created a pathway for preserving Historical Horse Racing (HHR) and, in turn, ensures the future of our signature equine industry in the Bluegrass. Following a ruling by the Supreme Court of Kentucky, it redefined pari-mutuel wagering to be consistent with how the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has regulated live racing for decades and HHR for the past ten years. Lots of technical legal arguments have been made for and against SB 120. I am not a lawyer and will leave the legal arguments to others, but one thing I know for sure is that this is good for our beloved thoroughbred racing industry. In passing SB 120, my colleagues and I in the Kentucky General Assembly protected the futures of thousands of jobs within the industry and maintained millions in revenue.

Thanks to the bipartisan efforts of the horse racing industry, its advocates, the Governor, and the legislators who supported it, the future for Kentucky is bright. The horse racing industry has come charging back.

Sen. John Schickel (R-Union) represents the 11th District in Boone County. He serves as chairman of the Senate Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee. Senator Schickel also serves as a member of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee; Judiciary Committee; Natural Resources and Energy Committee; the Interim Jail and Corrections Reform Task Force, and the Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary.

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