Franklin’s Kentucky Downs racetrack, which has experienced explosive growth both in its Historic Horse Racing machines and its live turf racing held each September, is being purchased by a group that includes Ron Winchell of Lexington’s Winchell Thoroughbreds, owner of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner.
Winchell and former Nevada casino executive Marc Falcone formed Kentucky Racing Acquisition, which is purchasing all the assets of Kentucky Downs from parent company Kentucky Downs Partners, the track’s owner since 2007.
KRA was formed Nov. 2, according to Kentucky secretary of state records, and lists a Las Vegas address as its principal office.
The purchase, subject to regulatory approvals from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, is expected to close in early 2019, according to a news release. No financial details of the transaction were released.
The deal comes at a time when the Franklin track is on an upswing, due largely to the HHR machines that have helped boost purses for live racing. Since the introduction of the HHR machines, betting on racing at Kentucky Downs has increased from $20 million in 2010 to nearly $800 million this year.
Such success made Kentucky Downs attractive to Winchell and Falcone, who served as executive vice president and chief financial officer at Red Rock Resorts and Station Casinos in Las Vegas from 2011 to 2017.
Winchell, whose Winchell Thoroughbreds owns more than 120 racing and breeding horses, said in a news release: “Some of my fondest early memories are of visiting race tracks with my father, and thoroughbred racing has been a passion of mine ever since. I am personally thrilled to be carrying our family name into this exciting opportunity to take the reins of Kentucky Downs, one of American racing’s great success stories of the past decade. This represents the first step in KRA’s plan to further advance racing and HHR in the Commonwealth.”
Likewise, Falcone said he sees the Kentucky Downs purchase as an important part of KRA’s strategy to grow with the racing industry.
“Our agreement to acquire Kentucky Downs represents a terrific opportunity that is consistent with our business plan to grow through strategic investments in racing facilities and apply our operational and management expertise to support future growth,” Falcone said in a news release. “Our commitment to horse racing extends beyond this announced plan to acquire Kentucky Downs as Ron and I believe there are other opportunities where our combined expertise and experience can help foster consistent growth for the sport.”
One such opportunity is the possible expansion into a harness track and gambling facility near Fort Campbell. Kentucky Downs is one of three companies to submit proposals to operate that proposed facility. Caesars Entertainment and a partnership of Churchill Downs and Keeneland Racecourse have also submitted proposals. The KHRC has scheduled a meeting Friday to consider approving one of the three applications.
An expansion into sports betting could be another opportunity for Kentucky Downs. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way earlier this year for more states to legalize sports betting, and at least two Kentucky state legislators have prefiled bills that would allow sports betting at racetracks and simulcast sites.
“I think it would be great for the industry, if it’s done correctly,” Kentucky Downs current General Manager Ted Nicholson said in September. “If part of the money goes for (horse racing) purses, it will be beneficial for everybody.”
Current Kentucky Downs ownership views the offer by KRA as beneficial.
Ray Reid, president of Kentucky Downs Management, Inc. and Kentucky Downs Partners, LLC, said he sees KRA, Winchell and Falcone as a “perfect fit” for the next chapter in the track’s history.
“We purchased Kentucky Downs in 2007 with the goal of reversing the business fortunes of Kentucky racing, and I believe we have done that,” Reid said in a news release. “Kentucky Downs Partners is confident that Ron and Marc are the right people to continue to expand on this momentum, so much so that many of our current owners intend to be part of and support the new investment group moving forward.”
Kentucky Downs has been operating in Franklin since 1990, when it opened as Dueling Grounds Race Course.