Wyoming rebuilds live horse racing
Rock Springs – According to Wyoming Horse Racing, LLC managing partner and Sweetwater Downs general manager Eugene Joyce, live horseracing is an important agribusiness in Wyoming, and he aims to continue to develop the sport in the state.
The year 2011 marked the first time there was a live race meet in Wyoming in two years, and Joyce says he feels it was successful, especially considering the fact that the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission only licensed the races two months before the first two-day race meet at the end of August.
“We were really scrambling to get the word out, and to put together attractive purses,” he says, adding that their facility, Sweetwater Downs, hadn’t been used as a racetrack in 18 years. “We really focused on the racing surface, because our philosophy is ‘safety first.’ We renovated the entire surface and worked it diligently.”
The attention to detail paid off, and at the end of the meet neither the jockey ambulance nor the horse ambulance had been used.
The two weekends of races attracted 1,500 fans each day, and Joyce says they’re looking to build this year.
“I told the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission that I wanted to bring long-term stability to horse racing in Wyoming, and to do that we’ll take a slow, reasoned approach and build from here,” he says.
“It went smoothly, especially for being put together on short notice,” says Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission Executive Director Charlie Moore of the 2011 meets. “Their business plan is that they want to keep improving and take baby steps, taking it slowly and methodically.”
Simulcasts fund race meets
Joyce says another positive of 2011 was the $150,000 in purses that were paid out over the four days, and he hopes to increase that to $200,000 in 2012.
He explains that it’s the simulcasts around the state that provide the revenue for the horsemen, the state and for the operators and managers of the races. Currently Joyce manages six off-track betting locations in Wyoming.
“The way it should work is that there should be enough wagering activity in the state for us to make a profit and to have enough money to run a live race meet,” he explains. “At this point we anticipate making money in year three or four.”
Of the long timeline, he says, “I’m one of the guys who likes to take a slow and steady approach – under-promise and over-deliver. It will take a lot of hard work and effort to get us back to where we once were.”
“We attracted horses from the entire Intermountain West – Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and even from Los Alamitos in California,” he says of the horses that were 90 percent Quarter Horse and 10 percent Thoroughbred.
“All in all, from a standing jump-start, I think we have a lot of positives to build on. This year we’ll advertise and hustle for horses, and we’ll work with the local community to make this meet even better.”
The 2012 race meet dates are Aug. 18-19 and Sept. 1-2.
Bringing stability to the market
Looking five years into the future, Joyce says he would like to see three or four race meets in the state at different locations, for a total of 15 to 30 race days.
“That will take a lot of doing,” he says. “We face competition from neighboring states, and there are less horses being bred in the United States now than 10 years ago. But, we hope we can bring some stability back to the market, so people with horses and stallions and broodmares can make decisions to breed horses, knowing that there will be places to race here in the state.”
“The race track brings a lot to the table,” says Moore. “Especially for the people who were breeding racehorses two years ago, but are now turning them toward barrel racing or leaving mares open.”
Of the 2012 meets, Joyce comments, “We’ve got a good partner in the Sweetwater Events Complex, and without their commitment we wouldn’t be here today. It is a nice facility, and we’re excited to be back there, and we’re hoping the crowds will be bigger and the field sizes for the races will be bigger, and that we’ll have a lot more purse money up for the horsemen.”
“The horse is an iconic symbol of who we are and what we value as citizens of Wyoming, and a healthy horse racing industry is like a manure spreader with money, and spreads it around, not only to the track operator and horsemen and breeders, but to the local communities where the horse racing activity takes place,” he concludes.
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.