Racing Schedule Debated at Prairie Meadows

by Dan Johnson

The Racing Association of Central Iowa will ask racing interests to scale back the 2002 season to free up more money for the association's offer to purchase Prairie Meadows from Polk County. Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse owners and trainers already have a contract that guarantees $19.9 million in purse money and Iowa-bred bonuses for 2002.

Prairie Meadows has a 98-day season of Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing set for 2002. Track officials have talked of shortening the season in 2003 while keeping the purse money per race the same.

How the 2002 season might be altered has not been decided. Nor Prairie Meadows has settled upon what it's offer will be, though paying for the facility over a 10-year period has been discussed.

"Right now, there is no plan, just a bunch of ideas out there that we're
trying to formulate," said Gary Lucas, a horse owner and RACI member. Lucas said convincing horse interests that by taking less in 2002 they will gain in the long-term, will be paramount to his group's chances of making a viable offer.

"It's the main key, no question about it," Lucas said. "We really want to do what's right for everybody. I've been a horsemen forever, and I certainly have no intent to do what is not favorable to horsemen over the long run."

RACI, a 13-person non-profit group, will examine how much money it has for a possible purchase of Prairie Meadows at its Oct. 24 board meeting. Currently, Polk County receives rent a portion of Prairie Meadows' profits, but that agreement expires in 2002.

Prairie Meadows has estimated that the $50 million it has this year to distribute between the county, purses, and charity could shrink to less than $30 million by 2004 as taxes and expenses rise.

Two Polk County supervisors have said that they would like to sell Prairie Meadows if they get a good offer, and the racing association voted 10-0 to explore its options. Those options include asking horse owners and trainers
to amend their 2002 contract.