It looks like Mid-Columbia horse racing fans will get their chance to see live racing this spring.
It took a while, but the Tri-City Horse Racing Association and the Benton-Franklin County Fair Board Association came to an agreement and signed a deal Thursday to save the spring meet.
“It wasn’t easy, but we finally got a contract with the fair,” said Cliff Schellinger of the TCHRA.
Lori Lancaster, president of the fair board, which leases the land from Benton County, agreed.
“Change is never easy. The two groups (the TCHRA and the board) have been at the same site for years,” said Lancaster. “I think it’s exciting that we’ll be working together. I think it’ll be a good thing.”
The race dates at Sun Downs will be April 20, 21, 27, 28, May 5 and 6.
So while the horses will race at the track, the TCHRA is in a race of its own to be ready in time.
Not to worry, said Nancy Sorick of the TCHRA.
“I’ve got all the contracts ready to go,” said Sorick. “I’ve got to get all of the contracts signed for the toteboard and insurance policies, the ambulance. We’ve got the starting gate contract, Truform for the programs, Trident, which is the video people. And I have to contact Churchill Downs.”
That last one is for the Kentucky Derby, which is May 5, so that local fans can wager on the big race.
Racing secretary Shorty Martin said he’s pretty confident he’ll be able to put together some strong race cards.
“Our first day, we will have the two Challenge race trials,” said Martin. “The Maiden Challenge and the Starter Allowance should have two trials each.”
Portland Meadows was scheduled to be open April 1 for horses to train, but that start date has been pushed back.
Martin said he’s already gotten phone calls from trainers in Oregon to come to Sun Downs to work out.
Kennewick trainer Bill Hoburg has been running the training facility at Sun Downs this year, and he says he’s ready for the meet.
“I’m really happy,” said Hoburg, who will race 12 of his own horses at the meet. “I’ve raced horses all over the United States. And maybe the smart people have gone on to Oklahoma, California, etc. But my kids and grandkids live here in the Northwest and I’d like to race close to home.”
Hoburg currently has 50 to 60 head of horses on the grounds training.
“The track is in really good condition,” he said. “And we’re also open to barrel horses. Not just race horses.”
Those people wanting their horses at the training center can call Hoburg at 509-539-5494.
Lancaster said the bridge used for the rodeo that goes over the track will come down as soon as a crane is available.
Meanwhile, Sorick and the TCHRA have begun the countdown to April 16, when they can get onto the track officially.
“We’ve got get all of our sellers, and personnel,” Sorick said. “We have 75 people on the payroll. And the horsemen, we have to let them know. These people are waiting for (the meet).”
Martin said the group has been together for 26 years, so being ready won’t be a problem.
“It’ll take a team effort,” he said. “It’ll be a sprint to the wire. But we’ll be ready.”