Doug Okuniewicz 

At the starting gate of a new racing season

Doug Okuniewicz is the new man holding the reigns at Les Bois Park. As general manager of the operation, he will oversee the Treasure Valley's first thoroughbred racing in three years, when the ponies return, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, July 2. The clubhouse's simulcast facility opens sooner, with a target date of Wednesday, June 1. The new track leaseholder, Treasure Valley Racing, is comprised of Idahoans Harry Bettis, Jim Grigsby, Robert Rebholtz, Larry Williams and Linda Yanke, in addition to a 50 percent ownership by the Alabama-based Greene Group.

You come to this operation as an employee of the Greene Group.

It's a privately held company, made up of a handful of principals with diverse businesses. They have community banks in Alabama, a catfish farming and processing company, a concrete mix company and a number of race tracks.

Will this be the Greene Group's biggest track operation?

I think it will be our largest horse racing operation. We have a large greyhound track in La Marque, Texas, and another in Corpus Christi, Texas. Many people here may know that we operate a track in Post Falls, Idaho. Currently, there is no racing there, but we operate a simulcast operation.

How many people will be working at Les Bois on a live racing night?

My best guess is that we'll have 70-85 employees working as parimutuel tellers, concessionaires and the general track operations.

What are the basic terms of your agreement with Ada County?

$75,000 per year for five years, plus .25 percent of the live and simulcast handle in excess of $10 million per year.

Remind us what a handle is.

It's a literal term. It's how much money is handled in parimutuel wagering.

It's our understanding that your live racing season is targeting July 2 as an opening day for a 15-day season, with races on Wednesdays and Saturdays and some special holiday racing. Does that season still have to be approved?

It does, but we don't see any problem getting an OK from the Idaho Racing Commission. [IRC has tentatively set a meeting for May 25.]

And you have all your agreements in place with the Idaho Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association?

Yes. The day after we secured our lease with the county, we sat down with the IHBPA and struck a deal.

You're targeting a June 1 opening date for a simulcasting operation in your clubhouse. Do you have your liquor license?

We're hopeful. We're working with the [Alcohol Beverage Control] folks to get our people fingerprinted and all of our operations approved. [Editor's note: ABC confirmed that it had received TVR's new liquor license application on May 5.]

In all honesty, this facility doesn't look like it's anywhere near a turnkey operation.

It was more or less gutted after the last operator. We've had some vandalism. We're working at mach speed.

We heard that copper wiring had disappeared and that there was no starting gate.

The old operator might have had permission to take certain things out. We had a difficult time determining who owned what at the time of their departure. But we're putting in new wiring, and we've leased a new starting gate.

How is the quality of the track?

It has to be soft enough and firm enough at the same time. A horse has to be able to run on it effectively without being injured. We had samples taken and sent off to an expert. We know we have to make it compositionally ideal.

What are your start-up costs?

Just to get things going, we're already close to $180,000. It's a chunk of coin.

What are some of your biggest expenses?

We've easily spent $40,000 just on new flat screen televisions.

When do the horses arrive?

We're shooting for May 14. They should be able to use the track a short time after.

Will you be able to exhale on your first live racing day?

Probably not. But I can tell you that there's going to be a huge amount of relief, because we will have crossed the finish line.

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