By Esther Zunker
A year after Keeneland hosted its first Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the region continues to feel positive effects from the international event.
The iconic Lexington track staged the Breeders’ Cup competition among the world’s most elite Thoroughbreds last Oct. 30-31. Four months later, VisitLex announced tourism in Lexington saw double-digit growth in 2015.
“Equine tourism continues to grow in Central Kentucky, and visitors to our area love touring our horse farms,” said Mary Quinn Ramer, president of VisitLEX. “Over the last two years, information on touring horse farms has been our single biggest request from those planning a trip to Lexington. Being able to connect our guests with the horses, the farms and the men and women in the industry is one of the most meaningful destination assets we have to offer.”
One of the special features of the event’s visit to Lexington was a first-ever Breeders’ Cup Festival, a weeklong celebration of food, music, art and horses that was fashioned to commemorate the event. The festival was well attended by both local residents and visitors.
“It was a huge community event,” said Laura Prewitt, who served as executive director of the Festival. “I was pleased so many aspects of the community, from public to private to government, really pitched in to make the festival work. We truly did have a lot of national and international recognition of what a great city Lexington is.”
Prewitt is confident Lexington made a positive enough impression on Breeders’ Cup to gain future opportunities to host the annual event.
Tours take visitors behind the scenes
Another highlight of Breeders’ Cup Festival Week were horse farm tours via Horse Country Inc., a new not-for-profit organization dedicated to making fans of Thoroughbred racing through experiences at local farms and vet clinics. The organization comprises 36 members representing various facets of the Thoroughbred industry.
During Breeders’ Cup week, the organization arranged tours for around 1,100 visitors. In 2016, Horse Country has already sold more than 13,000 tickets to visit 21 member locations.
The organization has welcomed guests from 49 states and six countries since offering its first Breeders’ Cup tour and is now seeing many repeat visitors, Horse Country Executive Director Anne Sabatino Hardy said.
“We believe the experiences we curate and produce at Horse Country member locations are exceptional,” Hardy said. “Including them in tour packages that also feature the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, or other regional attractions like Keeneland, the Kentucky Horse Park or Churchill Downs and the Derby Museum, really provides a showcase of the best of Kentucky.”
Hardy is encouraged by Horse Country’s growth in visitor attendance at all its member locations, and the way guests are including multiple locations on their visits.
“Seeing a big name stud farm may be the entry point, but pairing up that visit with a nursery farm or a clinic, or even a feed mill deepens the experience and understanding of the industry and, we believe, the connection to our Bluegrass region,” she said.
Keeneland Spring Meet sees robust growth
Additional positive news for Kentucky’s equine industry was the highly successful 2016 spring racing meet at Keeneland. The track experienced robust increases in attendance and on-track and all-sources wagering.
Track officials attributed the numbers to top-quality racing that featured the return of a number of horses who had competed in the Breeders’ Cup.
The 16-day spring meet attendance of 262,197 was up nearly 5 percent from 2015 and ranked fourth-highest ever for that racing session.
Full fields and competitive racing created double-digit gains in on-track and all-sources wagering this spring. On-track handle outpaced last spring by 11.35 percent, while average daily on-track handle increased 4.39 percent. All-sources wagering, including betting placed at Keeneland on imported simulcast signals, also registered significant growth, up 23.4 percent from last year. Average daily all-sources handle rose 15.69 percent.
Keeneland registered an all-time single-day handle record of $21,736,983 on Toyota Blue Grass Day, April 9, topping the previous best of $21,647,378 on Toyota Blue Grass Day in 2012.
“The momentum from last fall’s Breeders’ Cup carried forward to this spring and contributed to so many positives during this race meet,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “The loyalty of our fans and horsemen and the strong support of our corporate and media partners are very gratifying. These relationships are key to Keeneland’s success.”
Historical wagering at The Red Mile
“Historical wagering” on specialty devices at Red Mile harness racing track in Lexington has provided another much-needed boost to Central Kentucky’s equine industry.
KRM Wagering, a joint venture between the Red Mile and Keeneland, was launched last September with a $42 million renovation adding 902 historical racing terminals to the facility.
Through June 2016, with the opening of the new Keeneland-Red Mile facility, wagering on historical racing – real competitions that occurred many decades ago – in Kentucky soared 72.1 percent over the same point a year ago to $641.5 million.
The gaming concept was previously successful at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., and Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. The goal behind historic wagering is to generate revenue to increase purse levels and help Kentucky remain competitive with other states.
According to recent handle numbers presented to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, historical horse racing handle through June at the Red Mile had reached $155.4 million at the end of fiscal year 2016.
For comparison, the Ellis Park historical racing operation saw $73 million in handle from 179 terminals for the same time period, while Kentucky Downs handled $413 million from 625 terminals.
Historical racing features machines that resemble slot machines but base their payouts on a pari-mutuel formula.
Since its inception in Kentucky in September 2011, Instant Racing has generated nearly $2 billion in total handle. A percentage is earmarked to boost purses at racetracks across the state, while the state’s general fund has received $7.4 million from the machines. Other beneficiaries of Instant Racing include the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, Equine Industry Program, equine drug research and the Higher Education Fund.
Horse sales attract worldwide customers
On Newtown Pike, just miles from the Kentucky Horse Park, is the beautiful and historical sales pavilion and grounds of Fasig-Tipton Co. Known as North America’s oldest Thoroughbred auction company, Fasig-Tipton was formed in 1989 by William B. Fasig and Edward A. Tipton and originally headquartered in New York City.
Fasig-Tipton’s first Lexington-based sale was held during WWII in 1943 in a tent at Keeneland Race Course, where Fred W. Hooper Jr. purchased 1945 Kentucky Derby Winner Hoop Jr. for $10,200.
It was not until 1972 that Fasig-Tipton established its permanent Kentucky headquarters in the Bluegrass State. Since then, it has been setting records in the Thoroughbred auction ring and selling catalogues of horses that include some of the most prominent names in racing.
Among its notable graduates are Seattle Slew, Genuine Risk, Unbridled, Silverbulletday, recent Derby winners Big Brown and Mine That Bird, and the highest-priced broodmare of all time, Broodmare of the Year Better Than Honour, who sold for $14-million in 2008.
Fasig-Tipton Co. is now owned by Synergy Investments Ltd., a Dubai-based company headed by Dubai businessman Abdulla Al Habbai. The owners have updated and modernized Lexington’s auction facility, as well as increased its international profile.
Thoroughbred, Standardbred sales
Festival of the Horse
Thoroughbred racing, sales
Collection of racing archives
Lexington Junior League Charity Horse Show
Historic Saddlebred event
The Red Mile
Asbury College Equine Studies
Georgetown College Equine Scholars Program
Kentucky Equine Management Internship Program
Kentucky Horseshoeing School
Midway College Equine Studies
North American Racing Academy
Equine workforce education
The Race for Education
University of Kentucky Ag Equine Programs
EQUINE RESCUE & ADOPTION
Kentucky Equine Humane Center
Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center
University of Kentucky
Hagyard Equine Medical Institute
Lexington Equine Surgery & Sports Medicine Park Equine Hospital
Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital
Woodford Equine Hospital