|Corey Johnsen (Reed Palmer photo)|
Johnsen heads the management team that has taken Kentucky Downs from novelty to industry leader, offering some of the most lucrative purses in America during its boutique all-grass meets. Johnsen, Ray Reid and their partners in Kentucky Downs began operating Historical Horse Racing terminals on Sept. 1, 2011, and have used that innovative pari-mutuel technology as a game-changing force for the good. In the last five years, the track’s purses have mushroomed from $746,810 for the meet to $7.8 million in 2016.
Kentucky Downs also is using its economic firepower to benefit the entire state circuit, including working with the Kentucky HBPA to transfer $1.35 million in purses to Ellis Park for its 2016 meet. That largesse, enticing trainers and jockeys to stay in Kentucky for the summer, sparked the best racing at Ellis Park in years, if not ever.
Eric Hamelback, chief executive officer for the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, said he wanted a keynote speaker in the mode of Tampa Bay Downs president Stella Thayer and Oaklawn Park general manager Eric Jackson, who gave the featured addresses the past two conventions.
“One thing that I have tried to bring to the National HBPA’s platform is the importance and proclamation of being positive in our industry,” said Hamelback. “It’s unfair at times to our owners and to our participants that all they hear is negativism. We have got to get out of that mindset. That’s been my goal in setting up our conventions, starting with Mrs. Thayer and Mr. Jackson.
“Corey Johnsen clearly fits that bill. He is positive. He is upbeat and believes in being a team player and working together with horsemen and other tracks. He is very appreciative of the participants and our national owners and trainers, what they go through and what they have to give to this sport. Being a horseman himself makes him ideal to set off our convention. If everybody had his attitude, racing would be in great shape.”
Johnsen calls being the HBPA’s keynote speaker one of the biggest honors in a career that saw him start as a teenage $2 bettor at Longacres Racetrack in Renton, Wash., and groom at Centennial in Littleton, Colo., the summer before his graduation from Arizona State University.
He shot up the management ranks through the publicity and marketing departments at Turf Paradise, Arlington Park, Louisiana Downs, Remington Park and Lone Star Park, being instrumental in the development, construction and launch of the latter two. Johnsen, who rose to become president and part-owner of Lone Star Park before its sale, also has been involved in the opening or re-opening of four tracks in the Americas, including in Mexico City and Uruguay.
An innovator, Johnsen helped build Louisiana Downs’ Super Derby into one of the country’s top 3-year-old races at the time and was a key player in getting slot machines at Oklahoma horse tracks, bringing the Breeders’ Cup to Lone Star Park in 2004 and Historical Horse Racing to Kentucky. At every track stop, he has been immersed in the local market’s civic and charitable works and tourism.
Johnsen has owned horses since 1979, when he began putting together partnerships to race claiming horses. He and Reid were so enchanted with Kentucky Downs when there for the first time to watch their Argentine mare Honey Rose make her U.S. debut (narrowly losing the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf) that they wound up buying the track in 2007.
Since the Kentucky Downs purchase, Johnsen has been heavily involved with the Kentucky Equine Education Project, including succeeding co-founder Brereton Jones as KEEP’s second chairman. The multi-breed coalition, created to increase awareness of the benefits of the commonwealth’s horse economy and to promote jobs and economic influences for Kentuckians through the world-class industry, was a driving force in creating an additional $190 million to be paid out through the Kentucky Breeders Incentive Fund, purses and Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund since 2006.
“When I was grooming horses the summer before my senior year in college, to even dream that I would have the honor to address the National HBPA conference was beyond comprehension,” said Johnsen, who also is a breeder. “Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to remember that this is about the horse and all the participants involved in the sport. That’s been my guiding light. So it’s really gratifying to have this opportunity.”
Johnsen also will be part of a convention panel comprised of track operators discussing how strong working relationships with their owners and trainers is good for business.
“There are so many things positive about our sport, sometimes we get lost in all the negativity,” Johnsen said. “I think it’s important that we all discuss those positive advantages we have over other sports and entertainment to allow us to work together and maximize our success.”
Founded in 1940, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is the world’s largest thoroughbred horsemen’s organization, representing approximately 30,000 owners and trainers throughout the United States and Canada. The responsibilities of the NHBPA and its affiliates have greatly expanded as the racing industry has become more complex. In addition to its original general benevolence mission, the HBPA is the leading force for horsemen in negotiating contracts with tracks as well as the advancement of the sport through safety and integrity initiatives, promoting racing and assisting in the development of aftercare programs for retired racehorses.
The National HBPA is proud partner with its corporate sponsors: Lavin Equine Insurance Services, Xpressbet LLC, Jockey Club Information Systems, Big Dee’s Tack & Vet Supplies, Finish Line Horse Products, Horseman Labor Solutions, Omega Alpha Pharmaceuticals Inc, NTRA Advantage Program and Equine Savings Group.