Oklahoma Dates Compromise is No Solution, Say Horsemen

The Oklahoma Racing Commission approved a compromise racing schedule that tried to preserve a Quarter Horse meet at Remington Park, while allowing the financially trouble track to stay open. The trouble is that no one likes the compromise and some horsemen feel it was railroaded through by commissioners.

Since August, Remington Park has been struggling with a way to cut losses that have escalated to about $4.7 million annually. The Oklahoma City track had reached a deal with Fair Meadows in Tulsa and Blue Ribbon Downs near Sallisaw to run only a Thoroughbred meet and transfer all its Quarter Horse dates to Fair Meadows.

The racing commission ruled in September that Remington Park, which is owned by Magna Entertainment, had to run Quarter Horse dates in 2003. The track came back with an alternative proposal Oct. 17; it would run a 20-day mixed that would include Thoroughbreds and a 50-day meet for only Thoroughbreds. After extensive testimony and debate, the commission went into a closed door executive session for two hours and came out with a solution that was quite different than Remington and the other tracks proposed. Remington is required to run a 20-day mixed meet for Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Paints only from Aug. 7 to Sept. 1 and a 50-day Thoroughbred meet from Sept. 5 to Nov. 30. The commission also awarded a 36-day Quarter Horse meet to Fair Meadows and ordered it not run any Thoroughbred races. Next year will be the first time since Fair Meadows opened in 1989 that it won't run Thoroughbreds.

"This solution is unacceptable," said Chuck Clugston, vice president of the Oklahoma Thoroughbred Association. "For the first time I know of the three racetracks came up with a compromise proposal and they spent a considerable amount of time working it out. The commission does have the authority to change a proposal, but the mistake they made, in my opinion, is...they went into executive session and immediately passed something that was completely different than what was discussed without getting any further input from the parties involved."

Besides being forced to run a Quarter Horse meet during which it claims to be losing money, Remington is now faced with starting a Thoroughbred meet three days after the Quarter Horse meet ends, which could be a logistical nightmare, according to Clugston and others.

Ron Kennedy, executive director of the Oklahoma Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said he was disappointed with the commission's solution that statewide provides 56 days of Quarter Horse racing and 50 days for Thoroughbreds in 2003.

"We enjoyed 1,200 races in 1988 and we are now below 600 races," Kennedy said, referring to the year Remington Park opened. "It is not right and it's not fair. It still is the simulcasting of Thoroughbreds that continues to build the purses at Fair Meadows and Blue Ribbon Downs."

Magna has 10 days to accept or reject the proposed schedule.
Corey Johnsen, who is president of Lone Star Park, represented Magna at the commission meeting (Magna is expected within a week to close on the purchase of Lone Star). Johnsen said he hopes the schedule can be modified.

"We need to take the time and visit with the horsemen's groups before we consider a course of action," he said. "We can make another proposal."

Debbie Schauf, executive director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association could not be reached for comment after the meeting. Published reports, however, have said Quarter Horse industry leaders don't like the proposal because it doesn't provide enough days of live racing and the dates are in August rather than in the spring. Remington ran a 34-day Quarter Horse meet from April to June.

Before the meeting, Schauf said the question to be answered was whether 60 or 70 days of live racing at the state's only Class I racetrack is enough.

"The Thoroughbred industry can't live on that either," she said. "It would be different if they would offer $250,000 a day in purses, but look at what they are doing now?" Last year, Remington average $97,000 a day for both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horse meets.

"The only way for people to stay alive and run their homebreds is to run more than 60 days a year," Schauf said. "Magna's numbers show they lose the most money when they don't run live racing and lose the least during Quarter Horse racing."