Racing returnsWritten by Christy Martinez
Come late August and early September, live horse racing will once again take place in the Cowboy State.
On June 30 the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission met in Casper to review Wyoming Horse Racing, LLC and their application to run two weekends of live racing on Aug. 20 and 21 and Sept. 3 and 4 and to hold simulcast events in the state.
Charlie Moore, Executive Director of the Commission, says both applications were approved by unanimous vote after they were found to meet all of the criteria.
“There’s been no live horse racing for almost two years in Wyoming, and no operator applied for a license in 2011,” says Wyoming Horse Racing, LLC General Manager Eugene Joyce. “I have some background and history in Wyoming – my family owned Wyoming Downs for 10 years, as well as an off-track betting network.”
Joyce said he started looking at bringing live racing back to Wyoming, and thought it might have a chance, even started late in the year with a limited live race meet.
“We’re hoping that will get the off-track betting sites going to support live racing, not only this year, but going forward,” he says. “We’re hoping to go forward with a license again next year.”
Joyce says that he believes, after analyzing the economics in the state, that horse racing can be a viable industry in Wyoming.
“It was years ago, and a lot of things have changed since that time, like technology, which has helped reduce the price of running the business, and the economy here in Wyoming is doing a lot better than the rest of the nation, as it’s a little more resilient,” he states. “The population has increased 14 percent in the last 10 years, and that has led me to believe there may still be an appetite for the horse racing product in the state, whether it’s live racing or off-track betting.”
“Our basic philosophy is that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, so we took a shot and put in an application this year, and on June 30 they grated us the license to go forward with our plan to start up live racing and the rest of the pari-mutuel industry,” says Joyce.
To start live racing, Joyce says there are a couple things that are needed, and one of them includes horses, horse owners, horsemen and trainers who want to participate.
“Wyoming has always relied on the involvement of Utah horsemen, since there’s no pari-mutuel in that state, so we’re talking with them and the Wyoming All-Breeds Association,” says Joyce. “I get the feeling that there are still a lot of horsemen out there who would support a live race meet in Wyoming.”
Joyce says the other component that’s needed is customers.
“By going to Rock Springs, where they haven’t had a live race meet in 17 years, the community was excited about the prospect of starting up again there,” he notes. “It makes a lot of sense to start in Rock Springs, and we felt we’d get the horses, and the horses would bring the people to the area, which will generate revenue.”
Rock Springs has an existing racetrack, where for several years the town was successful in running a fair meet operated by the county.
“This will be different, with a private operator leasing the facility from the county,” says Joyce. “The county won’t have to bear any of the cost, and yet we’re hoping to give an economic boost to Sweetwater County and Rock Springs.”
For the two upcoming weekends of live races, Joyce says he plans to run nine races each of the four race dates.
“It’s primarily a Quarter Horse meet. We hope to get some Thoroughbreds to participate, but the Quarter Horses will run in trials and money-added races the first weekend,” he explains. “Horses normally need two weeks to recover before they come back. It’s not the perfect racing schedule as far as number of days, but we feel we have a reasonable expectation of being successful, and it’s a good initial first step to bring some stability back to the industry in Wyoming.”
Joyce expects to draw horses from Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho.
“In the intermountain region it’s mostly individuals who breed these horses and race them – there’s no big business like you get on the East or West coasts,” he says. “The good news about that is, when a horse wins at these meets, you’ll see more smiles in the winner’s circle, because it’s a victory not only for the individual, but their family and extended family, and the trainer’s and jockey’s families. When they win, it’s a real sense of excitement for everyone involved.”
Although Joyce admits it will be a challenge to take a facility that hasn’t operated for 17 years to being race-ready, he says he’s confident it will be as professional as any other race meet.
In the future, Joyce plans to expand the off-track betting system.
“It’s traditionally been in only four towns, but we hope to expand to eight to 10 towns, and to see if we can resurrect the fair meets that used to run in Casper and Gillette so that other communities can participate in the economic engine that is horse racing,” he says.