Backstretch LLC, a private company wholly-owned by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, closed a deal Monday to purchase Blue Ribbon Downs, one day before the Sallisaw, Okla. track was to be auctioned.
Blue Ribbon Downs was slated to be put up for bid to pay a $2.9-million debt owed the city of Sallisaw by the track's previous owners, Race Horses Inc. The Choctaw Nation owns 14 gaming facilities in Oklahoma with class II licenses. This will be the Choctaw's first racetrack.
"We want to be part of improving horse racing and the gaming industry in general in Oklahoma," said Choctaw chief Greg Pyle. "We feel our acquisition of Blue Ribbon Downs will have a positive effect on the horse racing industry in Oklahoma."
Beginning Saturday, Blue Ribbon Downs has three weekends of live racing remaining on the schedule this year. A spokesperson for the tribe said if the Oklahoma Racing Commission does not grant temporary authority this week to conduct the races then they would be held at Remington Park or would be conducted as non-wagering contests at Blue Ribbon Downs.
Frank Deal, the former general manager of Remington Park, and Blaine Story, former president of the Oklahoma Hosemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, will make up the new management of Blue Ribbon Downs. Backstretch LLC and Blue Ribbon Downs will be subject to the rules of racing commission.
The Choctaw Nation plans to refurbish the track and barn area at Blue Ribbon Downs prior to the opening of its next live meet, which begins in March. Judy Allen, public relations director for the Choctaw Nation, said money earned at the tribe's other gaming enterprises will be used for the initial upgrades to the track.
"We've been in gaming for several years and I think we have the means to improve the track initially and to improve things for the horseman," Allen said. "We think by doing this we can gain greater interest from the public. By the time the spring meet rolls around you're going to see a huge difference."