The commission itself is now back up to full strength. At its April meeting, when former executive secretary Bruce Batson's employment was terminated, commissioner Barbara Shinpoch resigned after more than five years in that role. Ralph Vacca, general manager of the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association, was appointed by Governor Gary Locke to fill that slot until January 2003, the end of Shinpoch's term. Locke also appointed Christiansen to serve until a new executive secretary is chosen.
Just three months ago it looked like Emerald Downs might remain the sole racetrack in Washington indefinitely. However, two parties attending the May 29 meeting of the Washington Horse Racing Commission indicated they plan to change that in the near future. Eric Nelson told the WHRC he has agreed to purchase Playfair race course near Spokane, Wash. That track, under different management, lost its license last year. Andy Stronach and two associates also attended the meeting. Stronach said he wants to build a track in Point Roberts, Wash., about six miles from Vancouver, British Columbia. Neither has yet submitted paperwork requesting licenses to the commission, but interim executive secretary Gary Christiansen said it could be "soon" that the commission hears from Nelson. Stronach is acting in this venture completely independently of his father, Frank Stronach, who owns a number of racetracks in the United States. Andy Stronach said his plans include 20 straight weekends of strictly turf racing, totaling at least 40 days of racing, the minimum required to qualify for a satellite license.