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New Les Bois Track Owners Draw Skepticism

Horse racers on fence about new track operators

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After a long search to find a new track operator, Ada County commissioners selected Idaho Entertainment, LLC to run Les Bois Park, now rechristened Idaho Downs. Though the company had not filed for its racing license at press time, both live and simulcast racing are planned. But with big name horses currently scattered across the West, the 2009 racing season is still up in the air for local horse racers.

"I think it's too early to tell," said Lindsey Comstock, a "gallop girl" who trains and exercises horses. "The county was insane to wait around. They let a lot of money go down the tubes."

For Commissioner Fred Tilman the delay was worth it. Idaho Entertainment runs racing in Wyoming and Montana as well.

"We did our homework and feel very comfortable that Eric Spector and his staff at Idaho Entertainment are the right team of professionals to breathe new life into horse racing in the Treasure Valley," Tilman stated in a press release.

Michele Naugoe, a horse owner who had to find new occupations for many of her racehorses with the closure of the track, isn't certain what to expect from the new management either.

"It's kind of wait and see what they bring to the plate for the horsemen," said Naugoe, who has several horses competing in California.

"If it does go and they get good dates and work with the horse people, a lot of jobs will open back up. Any little bit will help. As of this spring, a lot of us were thinking horse racing was gone," said Naugoe.

Across the United States, racing tracks have fallen under hard times and many have closed. The contract between Ada County and Idaho Entertainment is set until 2013, promising at least some future for horse racing in the Treasure Valley.

Tawnja Elison, president of the Idaho Thoroughbred Association who is currently spending the summer racing in Pleasanton, Calif., remains optimistic.

"I think it's too early to tell. I think if they looked at possibly having a program in the fall, it could work. There are prime dates in September for something to take place. We're hoping some racers will return. I think there is an opportunity for something to happen," said Elison.

While talks are under way, some confusion exists between the new operators and the horsemen as to how the track will be managed.

"That's the only way to make it work--find a consensus. An operator can't be successful without the horsemen and, vice versa, the horsemen can't be successful without the operator. It needs to be a win-win situation for everyone," said Elison.