The quarter horse racing track that was first proposed for Corbin in 2014 is undergoing a change of plans that will see it instead built to accommodate traditional thoroughbred racing, and see an extension facility constructed off of Interstate 75 in Williamsburg.
Officials with Keeneland, who first proposed the project and have been working since to make it a reality, announced Monday that the owners of Kentucky Downs had come on board as partners as they filed an application for a racing license from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
“Keeneland has dedicated resources to this region and project for many years and we look forward to working alongside our partners at Kentucky Downs to bring this project to life,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “This project will strengthen Kentucky’s vital horse industry and positively impact the Commonwealth and the local communities by stimulating significant economic growth, generating hundreds of new jobs and enhancing tourism and hospitality.”
Corbin Industrial Development Director Bruce Carpenter said the Corbin location will remain the same.
Keeneland purchased 149 acres of property off of the Corbin bypass between Allison Blvd. and Buchanan Blvd. in 2017.
The property has been rezoned from industrial to public use, which would allow for the construction of the planned race track, hotel and commercial space.
The state has planned improvements to that area of the bypass, including dedicated turning lanes and traffic lights at the intersections.
If the quarter horse track had been built, Corbin would have been the only facility dedicated to that type of racing in the state.
A typical quarter horse race covers one-eighth to one-quarter of a mile with no turns where a traditional standardbred race is up to one-and-a-half miles.
The Kentucky Derby is one-and-a-quarter miles, while the Belmont States, which is the third jewel in horse racing’s triple crown, is one-and-a-half miles.
Carpenter said while some redesign is necessary to accommodate the larger facility, there is sufficient acreage to do so.
While the track will host several weeks of live racing during the year, it will be open year-round as it will include historical racing machines.
In addition, the Corbin facility will include a hotel and restaurant, and commercial space.
The Williamsburg facility will be located on property off of Exit 11 near the Whitley County Health Department.
It will serve as an extension of the Corbin location, and will include historical racing machines, simulcast wagering, a hotel and restaurants.
“I think they just saw an opportunity there to expand. To get coverage in both communities with I-75 as well as coming out of the east off of U.S. 25E. Just an opportunity that they saw and liked,” Carpenter said of the Williamsburg location.
“It is going to be huge for us,” said Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison.
Harrison said, plans are for a 22,000 square foot facility, with 400 of the historical racing machines.
“It will be a nice addition. It will be a classy facility,” Harrison said adding that he is anticipating that it will attract more restaurants and retail businesses to consider that area.
In addition to the health department, Tractor Supply and Dairy Queen are located nearby
Carpenter said construction is expected to begin in early 2021 with a 12 to 14-month construction time on the Williamsburg facility, and 15 to 18 months in Corbin.
“Between the two, it is a $50 to $60 million project,” Carpenter said.
“The new racing facility will be a welcome addition to our city’s already long list of sites and attractions for local residents and visitors,” said Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus.
“Going forward this will have a huge economic impact on our region. This will create around 200 jobs at this facility, and will be good paying jobs,” said Knox County Judge-Executive Mike Mitchell about the Corbin facility which will be located in Knox County..
Officials noted that the project is contingent upon the racing commission approving the application and issuing the racing license.
The license has proved to be a point of contention in the project’s history.
Initial plans were to purchase to required racing license from Appalachian Racing, Inc. the owner of the defunct Thunder Ridge harness racing track in Floyd County.
At the time, the commission had issued eight racing licenses to facilities across the state.
However, upon discovering the existence of an unissued ninth license, Keeneland officials applied to the commission for that license.
With Floyd County potentially liable for the bond debt, a lawsuit was filed to force Keeneland to purchase the Thunder Ridge license.
Floyd County officials noted that if the county were held liable for the debt, it would be bankrupt.
The case moved to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 2016 and on to the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2017.
Before the supreme court could issue a ruling, the Floyd County bonds were paid off and the license was returned to the racing commission.
However, members of the racing commission announced that they had no plans to consider any new racing licenses.
Carpenter said he has remained steadfast that the project would become a reality.
“Sometimes things just take longer to develop,” he said.