Washington Governor Christine Gregoire has signed legislation designed to keep the state's four non-profit racetracks in business after they were staggered by the three-fold increase in jockey insurance that threatened their 2006 racing seasons.Sponsored by Senator Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla, the legislation will allow the small tracks in Kennewick, Dayton, Waitsburg and Walla Walla to operate this year.The Blue Mountain Racing Circuit will get under way April 8 when Sun Downs in Kennewick opens its 10-day meet.The bill, signed March 22, authorizes the Washington Horse Racing Commission to provide up to $300,000 annually to the non-profits to improve racing facilities and to fund necessary services such as jockey insurance and the jockey incentive program. Tracks must apply to the commission for the grants.The money will come from the commission's operating funds, and are not tax dollars from the state general fund. Executive Secretary Robert M. Leichner explained that the commission is self-supportive funded entirely from license fees and a small percentage of the betting handle.Jockey insurance will be a prime agenda item April 7 when the commission will meet in Kennewick starting at 9:30 a.m. in the Red Lion Hotel near Columbia Center."We are grateful to the legislature, the governor and the commission for coming to our rescue," said Walla Walla attorney R. F. (Dick) Monahan, president of the Blue Mountain Circuit and a director of the American Quarter Horse Association."Without this help, we could not have run this season."
A near tripling of premiums for jockey insurance has pushed many small tracks to the brink. Monahan said that throughout the country, industry groups are coming together to find a long-term solution to the problem.Sun Downs will run through May 7 and be followed by weekend meets in Walla Walla, May 13-14; Waitsburg May 20-21; and Dayton May 27-28. Walla Walla will also run a fair meet Sept. 1-3.