And old home for Kentucky horse racing has been made new.
Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, and about 20 minutes south of Cincinnati, will re-open to fans when it kicks off its traditional winter card Sept. 1.
The track has been closed to fans for the last two years while the grandstand and backstretch were renovated at a cost of $150 million.
Churchill Downs bought Turfway in October 2020 looking to capitalize on the growth of HHR machines and the never-satisfied horse racing audience in Kentucky.
“We have also decided to invest an additional $26 million in the backstretch of Turfway Park to improve the dormitories for the track workers, add five new barns for horses, and replace or improve some of the basic infrastructures to improve the overall facility,” said Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said days before the Kentucky Derby. “The positive impact of (HHR) on the Kentucky Thoroughbred racing circuit is undeniable and this additional infrastructure is warranted to support the growing Thoroughbred operations at Turfway.”
Carstanjen noted that without Historical Horse Racing machines (HHR) such an investment was not possible.
What’s an HHR?
HHR machines are a mix of a slot machine and a past horse race. Bettors sit at a traditional slot machine-like viewscreen but have the option of betting on a synthesized horse race from past competitors. They are given odds and past histories of the horses before they can place a bet.
The new Turfway Park will have 840 HHR machines and can expand to 1,200 if demand increases.
Kentucky legalized HHR machines in 2021 and has seen an increase in revenue tied to the rollout.
“The people that play those games love them,” said Turfway GM Chip Bach in a Spectrum1news report. “We’re seeing Newport grow by leaps and bounds. And we just know with the amenities we’ll have here at Turfway Park, it’s going to be a great gaming location.”
Surf and Turfway
Turfway Park counts its roots back to 1883 with the opening of the Latonia Race Course, about 10 miles north of the current Florence site.
The Latonia Derby was bigger even than the Kentucky Derby at the turn of the century, but the Great Depression killed business there and the track was torn down in 1939.
Investors moved Latonia to the current site and reopened in 1959. It was renamed Turfway Park in 1986.
It was the first Kentucky track to offer simulcast racing and in 2005, it debuted Polytrack, a track made of synthetic and natural materials that is considered safer for horse and jockey. Hence the name Turfway.
The Turfway Card
Turfway has an off-track HHR facility tied to its license and despite not having a live audience has seen its purses grow in recent years.
During the 2021-2022 meet that ended April 1, Turfway paid over $17 million, almost double what it paid out for the 2019-2020 season.