Horse race season gallops to starting gates

Season set to open April 27 with three weekends of racing

The snowy start to this year’s horse racing season delayed training for more than a month at Sun Downs Race Track in Kennewick.

It also postponed the start of the annual six-day meet at Sun Downs.

But don’t despair, horse race fans, the season is galloping close.

“We’re now starting one week later, with Saturday, April 27, being opening day,” said Nancy Sorick, who heads up the nonprofit Tri-Cities Horse Racing Association, now in its 32nd year.

This year’s season is April 27-28 and May 4-5 and 11-12 – all Saturdays and Sundays at the Benton County Fairgrounds, 1500 S Oak St.

The first race is at 1 p.m. each day. Cost of admission is $5, while parking is free.

Race cards – the number of races scheduled each day – vary between seven to 10.

Traditionally, the track’s opening weekend has always been busy and well attended, with trial races for the Pot O’Gold Futurity.

It’s the same story for the final weekend, with the Saturday Kentucky Derby wagering and the finals of the Pot O’Gold Futurity, as well as the stakes races.

But the middle weekend has always been slow, as the faster horses take that weekend off to race in the big-money races on the final weekend.

This year’s horse racing season is April 27-28 and May 4-5 and 11-12 – all Saturdays and Sundays at the Benton County Fairgrounds, 1500 S Oak St. , Kennewick.
(Photo courtesy Ginny Harding)

Now, however, with the schedule change, the Kentucky Derby weekend is the middle weekend.

“The middle weekend will be key,” Sorick said.

During the race meet, the TCHRA employs 50 to 60 people, from program sellers, to people working the wagering machines, to people at the gate.

The TCHRA also signed a new three-year lease with the Benton County commissioners to run the races that begins this year.

“We have a good rapport with the county commissioners,” said Sorick, who noted the TCHRA has had the track open since Feb. 1. The association must be out by June 1.

This year’s winter weather made the track impossible for horses to run on in February and much of March.

But by late March, trainers had the quarter horses out on the track exercising.

Other trainers, such as Boardman’s Hector Magallanes (last season’s trainer of the meet), took a stable down to Los Alamitos to train before coming back to Kennewick.

Sorick and racing secretary Shorty Martin said the money that Sun Downs gets from the Washington State Horse Racing Commission to help run the meet – which is one-tenth of 1 percent of the live handle at Emerald Downs in Auburn – is down from the previous year.

At times, it’s been as much as $100,000 in the past.

“It’s about $75,000 this year,” Martin said. “We only need to make up about $18,000 this year. Nancy is a really good manager of money. And we didn’t drop the purses this year because we want to make sure people come.”

Sorick added that the state horse racing commission did help Sun Downs with some of the insurance costs.

The last four years, too, the TCHRA has considered its meets successful.

Meanwhile, over the next month leading up to the season opener, more and more horses will be filling up the backside barns.

And Martin, who also trains the 2-year-olds how to start a race using a starting gate, begins starting gate school in the next few weeks.

“We’re a bit behind schedule, but actually with the meet starting one week later, we’re OK,” Martin said.

Once again, Sun Downs will be simulcasting the Kentucky Derby on May 4 and local fans will be able to wager on the race.

Also during the meet, Sun Downs will host regional stakes races – the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Adequan Derby Challenge Finals, and the AQHA Distaff Challenge Finals – where the winners advance to the national finals later in the year in Los Alamitos Race Track in California.

The biggest local race at Sun Downs will be the $30,000 Pot O’Gold Futurity. Trials are April 28, finals are May 12.

“Right now we have 43 entries for that,” Martin said.

Sorick has her usual goals for a great meet.

“Have a good, clean race meet,” she said. “And a lot of horses. And everybody comes out and enjoys the races. And they have a good time.”

She’s confident that will happen.

“I believe people will be there to support us,” Sorick said. “The horsemen will be here. We’ll make it.”

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