New state law aims to help local horse races

<p>Sun Downs Racing</p>

Sun Downs Racing

A new state Senate bill signed into law this month is expected to help local horse races survive in a tough economy.

But race organizers at Sun Downs in Kennewick, say even though the new law may solve some financial problems, it may create others.

Racing secretary of Sun Downs, Shorty Martin, says the financial future of horse racing in southeast Washington is at a crossroads.

"Everything is up in the air. Horse racing is on the decline everywhere" said Martin.

Local tracks in Kennewick, Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton receive funding from revenue made at Emerald Downs in Seattle.

But revenue on the west side of the state is down.

So much so, that only Kennewick has races this year.

Now, a new law is aiming to alleviate local financial concerns, so tracks here can take control of their futures.

"It's good and bad. It will let everybody race. But it puts more of the onus on them to support themselve" said Martin.

The new law, which was primarily sponsored by Senator Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla, lets smaller tracks accept private dollars for funding - something they couldn't do before.

Also, before this law passed, tracks who didn't hold races for one year, had to fund races on their own for five years in order to receive state funding again.

That rule is now gone.

"Waitsburg, Dayton and Walla Walla all rely upon the horse races for part of their community events. They're long time, over 100 years. Their community event has been built around horse racing. So I'm just trying to help them keep their community event together" said Hewitt (R).

The new law also lets the Washington Horse Racing Commission equally divide the money it has between each local track that requests races.

Before, the racing commission gave tracks money in increments of $15,800 dollars per race day.

Martin says, with more races getting approved, the amount each will receive from the state will go down.

"If we don't have enough to fund the purses to allow the horsemen to make a little money to come here, then it's not gonna be as good as it is" said Martin.

This year, the commission had just over $94,000.

So even though Sun Downs requested ten days of racing, which is what it normally has each year, only six were approved because of funding.

Races at Sun Downs kick off Saturday at the Benton Franklin Fairgrounds at 1:30 PM.