Sun Downs gets only 6 dates for spring meet

By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor February 12, 2011 

KENNEWICK -- Cliff Schellinger knew going into Thursday's Washington State Horse Racing Commission meeting in Auburn that his group, the Tri-City Horse Racing Association, wouldn't be granted its usual 10 days for its annual meet.

But the commission's decision shocked even him -- six days for Sun Downs' annual meet this year, set for April 23-24, 30, May 1, 7 and 8.

"I was surprised at the number of days," Schellinger said Friday. "We knew we wouldn't get 10. But we thought it might be more like eight."

It could have been worse.

Smaller tracks in Dayton, Waitsburg and Walla Walla got zero -- no days for racing granted by the commission.

"It's tough," said Schellinger. "I feel so bad for these other tracks. I felt bad walking out of that meeting. (The other track representatives) were real supportive. They said if it's only six days, it should be at Sun Downs. The commission put $200,000 into our track. The track is open for 10 months of the year for training."

Schellinger said those smaller tracks might try to do some match races and try to hang on for another year.

The problem this year is that the commission -- which gets its revenues from Emerald Downs in Auburn, then turns around and gives operating revenues to the smaller tracks -- doesn't have much revenue.

"The commission doesn't have any money," said Schellinger. "It all comes from Emerald Downs, and (the Auburn track is) down 50 percent a year for the last three years."

Schellinger said he and the other TCHRA members had determined before the meeting that they might not run this year if the commission had granted them fewer than eight days.

"But we decided to run the six days," he said. "This is going to be our 25th year (racing at Sun Downs), and that's the reason we decided to go with the six dates. We wanted to make it to 25."

After that, who knows?

The TCHRA has said the last few years it would end racing at Sun Downs, only to forge on.

"I don't know. We keep going," Schellinger said. "Horse racing all over the United States is in trouble. I keep saying this is it, but who knows? We've got a lot of support in this area."

The TCHRA board met Friday night to begin hatching a game plan for this season.

"What we're gonna talk about is getting our insurance together," Schellinger said. "We'll need the same amount of employees but for a shorter time. We have to pay for two veterinarian technicians back in the barn area, and we'll have to pay for the photo finish."

Those last couple of items normally were paid for by the state commission.

While there are just three weekends at Sun Downs this spring, expect plenty of action, Schellinger said.

"We will cram five weekends of racing into three weekends," he said. "We'll have 45 head for the Pot O' Gold Futurity, and we've been awarded three Challenge races -- the Distaff for fillies and mares, a Claiming and the Maiden Challenge."

Schellinger said racing secretary Shorty Martin already is making phone calls to get the race cards filled out.

"We're going to run 11 races every day," Schellinger said.

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