Why are there no horse races at the Kentucky State Fair?

The Kentucky State Fair is over 100 years old dating back to the first state fair held in 1902 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Starting tomorrow from August 20-30 the fair will once again return to Louisville at it's new home since 1956, the Kentucky Exposition Center. Persons from around the Commonwealth come to show off livestock, crops, food, crafts, various other exhibitions. The Fair also plays host to the World's Championship Horse Show, attracting over 2,000 individuals from around the world for competitions involving, saddlebreds, roadsters, road ponies, hackney ponies, and saddle seat equitation. Kentucky State Fair, http://www.kystatefair.org/horse_shows/index.html (last visited Aug. 19, 2009). The Fair also hosts a Quarter Horse Show, a Morgan Horse Show and a Minature Horse Show. There's no question that the fair hosts an abundance of horses, but what's missing in a state noted for horse racing, is a good old fashioned horse race.

The Kentucky Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether or not a horse race on the state fair grounds is constitutionally permitted in the 1949 case of Hargett v. Ky. State Fair Bd., 216 S.W.2d 912 (Ky. 1949). Back in 1949 the Kentucky Fair Board leased a material portion of the fair grounds for a four year period with an option to renew the lease for a fourteeen year period to a private individual or leasee for the express purpose of conducting horse races. Id. at 914. A second private individual sued the Kentucky State Fair Board arguing that the lease was invalid and lost at the trial level. On appeal the private individual raised four issues:

"1. The attempted lease extends beyond the term of the Board, and is therefore void.

2. The State Fair Grounds belong to the public and may not be leased or sold without specific authority from the people, which has not been given by the General Assembly.

3. The lease authorizes private persons to operate exhibitions and attractions on State Fair Grounds for private profit, and under the control of private persons, in violation of the Statute directing 'exclusive control of such activities by the State Fair Board.'

4. The attempted lease and option is really intended to facilitate race track gambling of the State Fair Grounds, and is contrary to the express public policy of this Commonwealth.'" Id. at 913.

The Kentucky Supreme Court examined the purposes of the lease agreement and determined that the lease failed to meet the test applied at the time to a "contract authorizing the conducting of 'horse racing and related general purposes' on a part of the State Fair Grounds.'" Id. at 916. K.R.S. 230.040 only permits horse racing in the Commonwealth sanctioned by the State Racing Commission. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. 230.040 (repealed 1960).The authority of the Kentucky Racing Commission to regulate and license the running of horse racing was upheld in State Racing Commission v. Lationia Agricultural Ass'n, 123 S.W. 681 ( Ky. App. 1909). For failing to register for a horse racing license with the State Racing Commission the license was found to be void.

Additionally, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that as a general rule a board of public officers exercising a government function cannot make a contract extending beyond its term of office without express authority to do so. Id. at 918. The lease for horse racing in this case was to occur during the State Fair and to extend to times when the fair was not in operation as a form of generating revenue for the State. Id. The Kentucky Supreme Court found no problem with the State Fair Board's policy to authorize the use of its property for other than State Fair purposes but held that in this instance the State Fair Board went beyond its specific authority because it cannot issue horse racing licenses. Id. In the end the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision and held that the lease to the private individual was invalid. And the rest so they say is history.

In closing it is interesting to note that the statute granting the Kentucky Racing Commission sole authority over the licensing of horse racing in Kentucky was repealed in 1960. So now the question lingers... can horse racing return to the Kentucky State Fair? I suppose the real problem with that proposition is the lack of a suitable race track on the fair grounds. But that is a question for another day...