Quarter Horse racing returns to Kentucky this weekend

·4 min read

Apr. 1—LEXINGTON — In the stalls at the Red Mile, horse trainer Renee Wilson said she is excited to be fielding quarter horses for the first time in over a decade.

While horses stick their heads out to chomp on clumps of hay, a couple of herding type dogs run around outside, following Wilson. When asked what the dogs are there for, she replies it's twofold: companionship and protection.

"We're not allowed to carry guns in most of the tracks," she said. "So if someone tries to get in my truck or come in my stall and isn't supposed to, this one will rip their arm off."

Wilson has been in the business for a while — she's been training horses since 2004. A Michigan native, she lives in Oklahoma — one of the powerhouse states for quarter horses in the country working for one of the top five quarter horse trainers in the country.

"I'm an old rodeo girl at heart," she said. "But quarter horse training and thoroughbred training is where the money is at, so I got into that."

For the first time in 10 years, she's about to have horses race in Kentucky. Before long, she'll be one of the many trainers, riders and handlers coming in from out of state to race their horses in Boyd County.

"We're very excited for this," she said. "Some states we run at, it's up in the air that there will be horse racing the next year. But here we know Kentucky supports its horse racing and we know it will do well."

With a daily post time at 2 p.m., The Sandy Ridge at the Red Mile will be holding its first quarter horse meet.

While the current track is under construction (expected to be open in spring 2025), Sandy Ridge will be running meets at the Red Mile in order to fulfill the obligations of its license.

The inaugural meet will run from April 1-6, kicking off with the Cherokee Stakes on Saturday. Over a million in cash purses will be awarded to the winners throughout the race.

"It's the fastest 19 seconds in sports," said Larry Lucas, chair of Revolutionary Racing Kentucky.

With 500 horses coming to Red Mile from all over — Kentucky, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and beyond — Lucas said the meet will help establish Sandy Ridge in the quarter horse community as a destination for racers.

Terry Oliver, track manager of Sandy Ridge, oversaw the grading and the setup at Red Mile to run quarter horses. He called the horses "the dragsters of the industry" offering up "top end, high-octane speed."

"The 110 yards are done in six seconds," he said. "It's hard to pick a winner, because the pressure is on the horses to be the best. If they can't stand that pressure, they don't do well."

But for the quarter horses coming to Red Mile — and to Sandy Ridge in the future — these horses are top talent, he said.

"By the time they make it here, they're ready to go," he said. "So it's pretty much anyone's field."

Unlike the thoroughbred, quarter horses can generally transition off the track and work as show horses, pleasure riders, barrel races and roping. In fact, Oliver said quarter horses tend to sell for more as barrel horses than they do for track racing.

Wilson said it was the barrel riding that got her introduced to quarter horses in the first place. She's always like the versatility of the breed — she's even put some up against thoroughbreds in long races.

"Sometimes, we have mixed races between quarter horses and thoroughbreds," she said. "A good sprinting thoroughbred can beat a quarter horse on a long dash, like an 870-yard run. But truthfully, it's a toss-up."

How does one pick a winning horse?

Oliver said taking a look a the records and the size of the horse can give an indication of who might perform the best, while Wilson said it's best to keep your money in your pocket.

"Honestly, it's a level playing field out there," she said. "That's what makes it great — it can really be anyone's race."

Downstairs at Red Mile are the "historical horse racing" machines that are coming to Sandy's, which will be adjacent to the track in the old Sears building next to Camp Landing.

On paper, HHRs are different than slot machines due to using algorithms based on the results of already-run races. However, based on the experiment conducted by one intrepid reporter and a dollar bill, they appear to eat one's money just the same as a regular ol' slot machine found at the gambling shacks across the river in West Virginia.

The kind-of-sort-of-but-not-really slot machines will be coming to Boyd County October 2023, Lucas said. With the legalization of sports betting in Kentucky, it's not out of the realm of possibility to see a little bit of that going on, too.

Post time is 2 p.m. today and admission is free.