Racing across the centuries: the history of Turfway Park
50th Anniversary Video History. (Released August 2009; 9 minutes)
The history behind Thoroughbred racing at Turfway Park spans three centuries. The track's roots reach from the first race at the original Latonia Race Course to today's call to the post, and the pulse-pounding rush of a great stretch run hasn't changed a bit in all that time.
The original Latonia Race Course opened in 1883 in Latonia, Kentucky, 10 miles north of present-day Turfway. Through the 1920s, Latonia was a force in racing, offering top horses, top jockeys, and the country's richest purses. Its major race, the Latonia Derby, for years outshone the Kentucky Derby. The Great Depression and changing markets forced Latonia's gradual decline, until it closed for good in July 1939. The property was sold to Standard Oil of Ohio, the track was torn down, and racing disappeared from Northern Kentucky for two decades.
Racing returns to Northern Kentucky
Drawing on the history and tradition of the original Latonia, a new Latonia opened in Florence, Kentucky, in August 1959. After early financial challenges the new track found its footing in the mid-1960s and introduced such innovations as winter racing and night racing. In 1982, its major race, the Spiral Stakes, attracted the sponsorship of bourbon maker Jim Beam and eventually achieved Grade II status. Today the race is a Grade III designated points race for the Kentucky Derby.
Investors led by Jerry Carroll bought Latonia in 1986, renovated it, and renamed it Turfway Park. In 1994, Carroll also introduced the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions, five stakes races leading to the Breeders' Cup championships. Carroll sold the property in 1999 to Harrah's Entertainment, GTECH, and the Keeneland Association. In 2005, GTECH sold its interest to the two remaining partners. In July 2010, Harrah's Entertainment became Caesars Entertainment. In 2012, Rock Gaming joined the ownership group.
A history of innovation
Regardless of its name or owners, Turfway has long enjoyed a reputation for innovation. On September 18, 1982, then called Latonia, the track became the first in Kentucky to offer simulcast wagering. That day our patrons saw Lemhi Gold win the Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park. On September 9, 1987, Turfway became the first track in Kentucky to offer Pick 3 wagering. A year and a day later, we introduced simulcast wagering to Kentucky when we sent our full card to Ellis Park. In 2003 we became the first track anywhere to install the Super Carrel, where you can watch replays, place bets, and even order food without leaving your seat.
That tradition of innovation took a giant step forward in September 2005 when Turfway became the first racetrack in North America to run races on Polytrack, a hybrid of synthetic and natural materials that remains consistent in virtually all weather conditions and is remarkably safer for horses and riders.
On September 26, 2009, Turfway was fully accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance (SAIA), reflecting compliance with standards for injury reporting and prevention; creating a safer racing environment; aftercare and transition of retired racehorses; uniform medication, testing, and penalties; and safety research. The track was fully reaccredited in 2011.
Today Turfway Park employs about 100 people year-round, a number that jumps to 300-plus during the track's fall, holiday, and winter/spring live race meetings. Not included in that number is the ever-changing population of jockeys, grooms, trainers, exercise riders, and others on the backside.