Kentucky's horse industry faces crisis, legislators told

Lexington Herald-LeaderJanuary 18, 2012 

FRANKFORT — Kentucky lawmakers got a peak inside the checkbook of racehorse owners and small Thoroughbred breeders Wednesday. The numbers were bleak.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said she arranged the hearing as background education, particularly for freshmen legislators, on the current financial situation in the Thoroughbred breeding and racing industry.

"It's a different day from what it was in 2006," Westrom said. "We truly are facing a crisis."

Robert Feenick, senior vice president at PBI Bank in Lexington, told the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee that Kentucky's position as the top state for stallions and breeding has been eroding as other states have beefed up purses and breeders' incentives with money from racetrack casinos.

According to figures compiled by The Jockey Club, Kentucky has maintained and even increased its percentage of mares bred in recent years as the breeding industry contracted during the economic downturn but breeders are worried that the tide is about to change as major breeding states like New York jump in with millions from slots.

Rep. Royce Adams, D-Dry Ridge, asked whether a constitutional amendment to allow expanded gambling is the only thing that could turn the Kentucky around.

"From my perspective, a healthy breeding business has to be hooked to a healthy racing environment. Otherwise you leave yourselves exposed," Feenick said. Breeders incentives, such as those currently funded with the sales tax on stud fees, won't be enough, he said. "I don't think you're going to be able to support it and compete with the likes of New York."

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