LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - After 11 years in charge, Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery is retiring, leaving behind a track and a sport facing rapid changes.
Flanery took a break from cleaning out his desk Monday to discuss how a recent series of upheavals in horse racing actually delayed his retirement plans.
He laughed when asked if 2020 was the reason for leaving.
“No,” Flanery said firmly. “2020 is what kept me longer.”
It was a year that brought a pandemic, social unrest and ultimately a delayed Kentucky Derby without fans in the stands. The sport was already trying to recover from spikes in fatal injuries that made it more difficult to attract a new generation of fans.
“We’re always looking for new fans for the sport,” Flanery said. “We’re always looking at bringing them out and helping them to understand how important the human and equine injuries are to us and to everyone around. It’s really a special bond.”
Flanery turns over the reins during a time of unprecedented competition from an explosion in the availability of sports and casino wagering just across the river in Indiana.
”When you look at it, everything has to grow, everything has to innovate,” Flanery said.
Part of that innovation under Flanery has been the proliferation of historic horse racing machines, and millions of dollars in capital improvements at Churchill Downs, including plans for a new hotel. But so far, no casino.
”We’re always in the dialogue in regard to other options, be it casino gaming or other types of sports wagering,” Flanery said. “But that’s an educational process we’ll have with legislators.”
Flanery credited his team for successes during his tenure.
”I’m just trying to make sure that we’re making people happy,” Flanery said. “Because if you’re not at Churchill Downs and having fun, then we haven’t succeeded.”