Wyoming Horse Racing LLC brings prospect to county commission
Rhett Breedlove/Torrington Telegram Wyoming Horse Racing LLC owner, Nick Hughes (right) and business partner and associate, John Sheldon (left), discuss the potential for a large construction project in Torrington that could perchance include a racetrack, hotel and casino.
‘There is a lot to digest, and you’ve given us a lot to think about’
GOSHEN COUNTY – The County Commissioners met in session at the Goshen County Courthouse Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. for the discussions of old, ongoing and particularly new business.
Present at the meeting were Chairman Michael McNamee, along with fellow Commissioners Justin Burkart and Aaron P. Walsh.
Although the meeting focused in depth and length on crucial county topics such as continuous road and bridge maintenance, emergency preparation/planning and healthy business relationships, one notable item on the agenda pertained to brand new potential business prospects by Wyoming Horse Racing LLC (WHR).
Speaking and providing representation on behalf of WHR were owner Nick Hughes, as well as business partner and associate John Sheldon.
Hughes expressed to all three commissioners, as well as roughly a dozen in attendance a strong interest in a potential future business relationship with Torrington and Goshen County.
“This is really just for us to just say hello for now, and to help you understand who we are,” Hughes began. “We have a thought process, and that is that we would like to petition opening a facility in this county, especially close within the city.”
Hughes mentioned specifically the sight of 1500 East Valley Road Highway 26 as a strong candidate for a potentially large construction project.
“We did meet with the mayor yesterday,” Hughes continued. “He told me all the reasons perhaps why this would be difficult, and we accept that. We are not looking to try and force any issue; we don’t have that right. If you feel it isn’t right or us to be here, within that press we are doing a lot of the investigation, we just want to give a bit of background.
“The horse racing came back to Wyoming, and while you can understand I’m not from Goshen County and not from Wyoming, I am an American citizen. So about two years ago I bought WHR. We bought the company with what we call footprints, which we still have. We do not come to this meeting with expansion. With huge respect for Wyoming it is not Las Vegas, although we have individually forty years of understanding gaming, skills, hospitality and horse racing.”
Hughes, who originally hails from the United Kingdom, gave a brief history of horse racing experience in a state very well known for accommodating one very famous, high-status race.
“Since I came to the U.S in 2011 along with other partners of mine, we bought Kentucky Downs in Franklin,” Hughes continued. “Kentucky’s signature industry is the horse, and out of nine racetracks five were slated to close. Horse racing doesn’t make money there anymore and very few people go to the races, so we bought the racetrack. We ran it for four and a half years, fully committed to horse racing. I’ve worked with horses for twenty odd years, but we still lost a million a year as a racetrack. We then introduced a very little-known product that was actually called an IRM, out of Arkansas. We introduced that to Kentucky Downs, and it went crazy. We became a great asset to Kentucky Downs.
“By that September, ‘little’ Kentucky Downs was the biggest pari-mutuel payer to the state of Kentucky,” Hughes continued. “We warped those two together and we had the biggest purses. We even gave to some of the other struggling racetracks. We started getting a lot of phone calls about how this little ridiculous building that has everything was one location, and the finish line wasn’t even close to it. It was weird, but we made great money and that’s what precipitated a lot of growth. We don’t really believe in small footprints. We are to the competition one that goes and explodes. We bought the company not with the idea to expand the footprint. What we did was bring 18 million dollars into the state to invest in the base product, but also to expand tourism just like we did in Kentucky. We are building a 32,000 square foot center on the Cheyenne outskirts, obviously for the Colorado market. We want to replicate what we did in Kentucky, and are doing the same thing in Evanston. Those two together are probably in the region of a 50-million-dollar investment.”
After listening attentively to the presentation of Hughes, Chairman McNamee noted the prospect was large and ambitious, with much to be considered should the notion move onward.
“We look forward to visiting with you further, and finding out more about what the plan is,” McNamee stated. “As with any conversation that we’ve had with this, there is a lot to digest and you’ve given us a lot to think about. We will take all of that under advisement and see where it goes from here.”
“We are here just to say we are thinking about it. We don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes, or go where you think it may not be appropriate,” Hughes added. “We work regularly with local regulators and commissioners. This is us. If you think it is not a good idea, we accept. Nothing is personal, it is all business. When we came into Wyoming two years ago, this has become our profile. We would love to do it, or at least explore doing it. We are not asking for anything specific today, but if we did do it we need to know if we are going to be the lease holder. Also we would think that if this went forward giving your timelines, it’s about a six-month build. I hope you understood given my strange accent, what could be very good for the community.”
The meeting also included a brief but beneficial presentation by Eastern Wyoming College President, Dr. Jeffry Hawes. Hawes momentarily added a similar notion before the commission regarding future valuable business prospects for the entire county.
“How can we partner and think about the future, not only with this community but Goshen County?” Dr. Hawes said. “I am meeting with Chairman McNamee tomorrow, and we talked previously about where these ideas could potentially go. The college just finished the Facility Master Plan, and it can just show you things that people are dreaming and thinking about. As far as the college, we see this breaching in long term with the fairgrounds, as well as agricultural resources to our region. I will get that information set with our Facility Master Plan, and will wait until our board approves it next week. We will have that sent to you, and Chairman we can talk about what potential grant writing could look like. We did bring in just over 3.5 million in grants just this year alone, and we have some big ideas that I feel we need to move forward on and how we can do it together.”
The EWC President soon made a valid point in bringing up one particular piece of significant recognition to the college nursing program recently.
“Our nursing program a year ago was restricted by the State Board of Nurses by not being able to add anymore nurses or curriculum,” Dr. Hawes explained. “We brought in Dr. Monica Teichert, and she has led us through an accreditation from having good nurses but with challenges in our structure. They fixed those issues; the State Board lifted our hold and now we can get back to expanding the nursing program. We will be celebrating that at our next board meeting. One hundred percent of the last batch of students all passed exams to become licensed nurses. You are in trouble when half cannot, and that is historical in keeping our vet-tech and nursing programs.”
“And we are looking forward to keep on building those relationships between the commission and the college,” Chairman McNamee added.
The meeting was adjourned at promptly 11:30 a.m., and will reconvene at the Goshen County Courthouse February 20, at 9:00 a.m.