Trainer Bob Baffert, elected to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame this year, is a native of Arizona who bases his multiple Eclipse Award-winning stable in Southern California. But he's no stranger to Kentucky, having won the Kentucky Derby three times in addition to the Kentucky Oaks, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and many other races at Kentucky racetracks. His longtime client, Mike Pegram, got his start in racing by attending Ellis Park in western Kentucky. Pegram is among many clients that Baffert has represented while spending millions of dollars on Kentucky-bred yearlings and 2-year-olds in training at sales in the Bluegrass State over the past 20 years.
Because of his concerns for the current state and the downward direction of Kentucky's Thoroughbred industry, Baffert wrote the following letter, sending it to Gov. Steve Beshear, all members of the Kentucky state Senate and a number of state Representatives. He told the Paulick Report he was not solicited by any individual or organization to write the letter, but approved our request to republish it here. — Ray Paulick
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I am a Thoroughbred horse trainer. I don't live in Kentucky, but I spend a good amount of time in your fine state throughout the year and it's here where I have enjoyed some of the proudest, grandest moments of my life. As I watch racing in your state diminish, I am appalled at the lack of interest or concern on the part of legislators in the Bluegrass…the “Horse Capital” of the world.
This is an industry that generates over four billion dollars to your state and brings in another nine billion dollars in tourism. That's not including the hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kentucky Horse Park and events such as the Kentucky Derby. Racing in your state directly or indirectly employs more than a hundred thousand workers. That translates into hundreds of thousands of people and their families who depend on it for a living. Over the past several years, I have seen many of our wealthiest horse owners leave my home state of California for the bluegrass of Kentucky. They bring to the Commonwealth a multitude of resources. How can you allow an industry of this magnitude to fail?
The world is ever-changing. Horse racing is no exception. What once worked for an industry must be tweaked or, in some cases, totally revamped. Alternative gaming (i.e. slots) in neighboring states is killing racing in Kentucky. That is fact. Millions of dollars are being spent in areas, which, in many cases, are just a stone's throw away from Kentucky soil. While there is much work to be done within our industry, you and your fellow lawmakers have the power to give it a fighting chance. As stewards of the state's economy, it is your duty. Horse racing has been too good to Kentucky for you to turn a blind eye to its plight.
Time is of the essence. If the legislature doesn't act swiftly, Kentucky will not resemble the state you or your children grew up in. Pristine horse property will be abandoned, or worse yet, replaced by concrete. Once viable, thriving communities will shrink or vanish as their economies disappear. The state will find itself supporting many of the hundred thousand hard working men and women who will be left with no way to support their families. Public works projects will suffer as tax dollars wither away. And then there's the challenge of caring for the three hundred twenty thousand displaced race horses. Have any ideas?
Rich in history and steeped in tradition, Kentucky has long been the bastion of Thoroughbred racing in America. It should be looked upon not only with a sense of pride, but as a vital and irreplaceable staple of your economy. Racing is not asking for a handout, but simply the tools to compete in a changing, highly competitive market. Your state's signature industry is fighting for its survival. What are you going to do to help?
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