Nancy Sorick is in her 80s, while Shorty Martin is turning 70 this year.
But rather than enjoying the easy retirement life, they’re putting in long days to bring back horse racing for Mid-Columbia enthusiasts.
Sorick and Martin – and their merry band of workers – are preparing to kick off another spring horse racing meet at Sun Downs race track in Kennewick.
The season runs on three consecutive weekends – April 21-22, 28-29 and May 5-6 – at the Benton County Fairgrounds.
The first race is scheduled for 1 p.m. each day. Cost of admission is $5, while parking is free.
Race cards – the number of races scheduled each day – varies anywhere from seven to 10.
Sorick heads up the nonprofit Tri-City Horse Racing Association, which celebrates its 31st season of racing this year.
During the race meet, the TCHRA employs 50 to 60 people, from program sellers, to people working the wagering machines, to those working the gate.
Even at Sorick’s age, she still loves running the races.
“I love doing this for my love of the industry,” she said. “I love working with down-to-earth people.”
The TCHRA is in the final year of a three-year contract to run the races at Sun Downs. Sorick would like to keep doing it after this year.
“I still feel an allegiance to it,” she said. “Nobody is involved in it like I am. We take it one year at a time. But I am looking forward to it next year.”
And Martin, who is the meet’s racing secretary and also doubles as the gate starter, plans to be right by her side.
“I grew up in the business,” Martin said. “Horse racing just gets in my blood.”
Martin got a job at a race track at 15, and will celebrate his 55th year in horse racing this year.
Sorick and Martin are still positive about a sport that has seen plenty of challenges in the Northwest over time.
During the past 30 years, tracks in Spokane, Yakima, Walla Walla, Dayton, Waitsburg and Boise have all shut down.
But at Sun Downs, things have been looking good.
“Four or five years ago, we were down financially,” Martin said. “But in 2015, 2016 and 2017, we’ve been up a bit. I think one thing that has helped us a lot is going six days with the meet, and the Kentucky Derby webcast.”
Once again, Sun Downs will be simulcasting the Kentucky Derby on May 5, and local fans will be able to wager on the race.
Also during the meet, Sun Downs will host regional stakes races – the Adequan Derby Challenge Finals, and the Boehringer Ingelheim Distaff Challenge Finals – where the winners advance to the national finals later in the year at the 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 22; finals are May 6). And Sorick said they’re seeing more entries for that race.
“We have 49 head who have entered the trials,” she said. “Last year, we had 24. So we’ve more than doubled the field. We’ve got horses coming in from California and Oklahoma.”
And some of the region’s top trainers – Hector Magallanes, Don Young and Bill Hof – will have strong stables competing in the meet.
Visitors to the fairgrounds can stick their heads into the barns on the back side of the track and see horses everywhere. That’s the best sign that horse racing in Kennewick is just around the corner.
“The barns are full,” Sorick said. “Every stall is spoken for, and we have close to 300 stalls.”
For more information, visit sundownshorseracing.com.
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