This past Sunday, Nov. 10, officially marked the conclusion of the Oak Grove Racing and Gaming Inaugural Harness Race season.
The season began Friday, Oct. 18 with an almost entirely temporary set up, while Oak Grove Racing, Gaming and Hotel continues to build its new facilities. Officials said they wanted to get an initial race under their belt prior to construction being completed by the middle of 2020.
With the inaugural races beginning in a temporary set up, expectations for the races and attendances generally played out as expected, according to Director of Racing Peter Szymanski.
"It was about what we expected," he said. "We didn't go out and market the product like we normally would, because this was a temporary structure, temporary set up.
"It went well for being an initial start up situation. We started everything from scratch. Racetrack, maintenance building, press box from scratch. It was all part of a project to get the racing season under our belt. All in all, it was well received by both staff, horsemen and patrons."
The temporary setup included tents for betting, bleachers, food trucks, a fenced-off beer garden and a large temporary scaffolding for announcers and the press.
Despite that, Szymanski estimated that around 5,000 to 6,000 people attended the inaugural races this season, even with losing a day and a half of races due to the wind storm that came through the area at the end of October.
He shared that the attendance was what they expected due to the decision to not advertise and market as heavily as they would if construction was completed.
Although the races panned out as expected, Oak Grove Racing and Gaming plans to capitalize on what went well with the inaugural races given the initial start up and address the issues it had as well.
Szymanski explained that because of the temporary setting of the races, Oak Grove Racing and Gaming could not give the level of hospitality and customer service Churchill Downs normally gives at their facilities.
Next year, it looks to improve on that aspect with a slew of accommodations and entertainment, once construction of all facilities is complete.
"With the buildings being constructed as part of the casino and hotel complex, we're going to have a determined and exclusive betting area setup," Szymanski said. "We're going to have an apron for people to go outside and watch the races. More and more televisions available.
"It will be a more amenable type of atmosphere for people to wager and have a good time. We're also going to have restaurants in various locations. All in all that's the effect we're looking for."
Construction is expected to be finished by July, 2020. The finished product is expected to include a paddock, a grandstand, an amphitheater, a hotel and gaming facilities for historical racing machines.
Within the hotel, will be the casino area along with several restaurants and bars. So far, construction of the race track and some of the maintenance and horse stables have been completed.
Along with the new buildings and entertainment options, the second season of races is scheduled to be expanded.
Oak Grove Racing and Gaming's next season is projected to kick off at the same time as this year, by mid October. However, the racing schedule will be expanded by four days; going from 12 to 16 racing days.
While also going for a longer season, Oak Grove Racing and Gaming will be vying for bigger purses.
"This year, we went for approximately $600,000 in purses with the purses averaging nearly $6,000 a race for the 10 and a half days we had," Szymanski said. "Next year, we're looking to better that as soon as we get more money kicked to the purse account."
Overall, following the end of the inaugural season and moving forward to 2020, Szymanski and Oak Grove Racing and Gaming are feeling positive and hopeful.
"I think going through this meet we established a really good foot hold in the state of Kentucky," he said.
"To help everybody out, especially the horsemen in the state. We showed the state of Kentucky that we mean business and when we set to do something we can get it done. We got it done and we look to improve that product for the fall."
Reach Avery Seeger at 270-887-3236 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AveryNewEra