Knox County could get new horse track

January 14, 2015
Illustration by Charley Myrick

Illustration by Charles Myrick

By JAY NOLAN


jnolan@mountainadvocate.com

It’s still a long way to the finish line, but Knox County has jumped to the lead and could be the winner in the race to secure hundreds of new jobs.

“You absolutely are under consideration.” Vince Gabbert, Chief Operations Officer of Keeneland told the Mountain Advocate, when asked if the Knox County site was still in the running.

Keeneland Race Course has been working with a Lexington based developer, Gibson Company Commercial Real Estate, to find a site for a quarter horse racetrack near I-75 for quite a while. Recently, a push to have London annex land and develop such a track at the site of the former truck stop just off exit 29 in North Corbin made it an early favorite. However, Corbin announced it would reject any attempt by London to annex the property, according to multiple media outlets, primarily because Corbin has invested extensively in placing water and sewer lines there.

So, now the 149-acre site located off the Carnell Sprinkles Bypass in the Tri-County Industrial Park is officially in the running to host the facility. Ernie Arnold of Gibson Development acknowledged to London city officials at a briefing last week that Keeneland has been eyeing the parcel of property off the Corbin Bypass for their facility.

Arnold’s associate, Jim Powell, also from Gibson, described the proposed project as “the greatest economic development in southeastern Kentucky in 50 years.”

Bruce Carpenter, who sits on the Tri-County Industrial Board, confirmed that the Knox County site is within the Corbin City limits. So, alcohol sales could be permissible for qualified hotels or restaurants locating near the facility. That is something Arnold has publicly stated would be important to Keeneland.

Locally elected officials are cautious about discussing the project. “This is not a done deal,” says Judge Executive J.M. Hall. While Hall did not comment about any specifics, he did say, “Obviously, I am in favor of having more good jobs and economic opportunity come to our area. I don’t know if they have specified a certain number of jobs, but if we are just talking 100 full time jobs plus lots of part time jobs, or 200 jobs or whatever, that’s a good thing.” Hall also said, “If something like this can be in Corbin, or even Whitley County, that will help us too. But personally, I would be really happy to have something like this locate here in Knox County.”

Reportedly, Keeneland’s current plan is to build a quarter horse racetrack that could have up to 12 days per year of live racing. In addition to building the track, plans for developing horse boarding barns, a sales paddock, and a facility to house instant racing machines and have simulcast wagering on races nationwide are all supposedly being considered. These non-track facilities could be in use almost year round.

One local businessman who has owned horses and raced them at Keeneland said, “Many people don’t know that Keeneland supports non-profits. They put lots of revenues back into the community. And, they open up their facilities for family events, weddings, birthday parties, and things like that too.”

Unlike the focus on thoroughbred horses at Keeneland’s current track, everything about the planned Knox County facility would be centered on quarter horses.

When asked if he could provide any additional information on the project, Gabbert declined, but added, “We hope to have an official announcement soon.”