When he suggested that Kentucky thoroughbred racing could be weakened to the point that an out-of-state track might take on the Kentucky Derby itself, staging a bigger, richer race on the first Saturday in May, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo did a disservice to the pitch for expanded gaming in race tracks.
There’s enough merit to the arguments in favor of slots to let them stand on their own. Instead, now the public has been treated to a debate that is just silly.
As long as Churchill Downs stages a race called The Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, it will be the most recognized horse race in the nation.
The only way Kentucky loses the Derby is through sheer incompetence.
All right, perhaps that’s not so far-fetched.
In a front-page story in The Courier-Journal on Sunday, Churchill Downs senior vice president for communications and national affairs Kevin Flanery warned against complacency, and that’s fine. But he also played along with Stumbo’s scenario, mentioning how NASCAR has eaten into the Indianapolis 500 with its own event on the same day.
That’s a fine example, but misses the point. NASCAR is a rival form of racing in itself. For Flanery’s analogy to hold, a quarter horse race would have to somehow rise up and draw the kind of following the Derby does.
As Greg Hall’s reporting shows, nobody in the industry is interested in bringing the Derby down.
If Churchill and state legislators want to hold this over the heads of voters to try to sell the idea of expanded game, then the idea is dead already.
We’re always going to have a Kentucky Derby. Even if Churchill were to shut its doors, we’d have a race somewhere else, move it to Keeneland, open the infield, whatever.
Yes, racing in Kentucky is in trouble. But the Derby is the Derby. Racing in Kentucky should not be equated with Churchill Downs and the Derby. Those entities are the “haves” in this scenario.
And it’s mind-boggling that those who should be selling expanded gaming to people around the state have now drawn the attention of people to the “haves,” instead of the areas of the industry that are legitimately in trouble and in need of action.