Legislators Consider Bill to Lower Limit of Horse-Racing Days 

On track at the Statehouse

Sponsors of new horse-racing legislation say less is more. Lawmakers are saddling up with a proposal to clear the track for horsemen and race operators to negotiate for as few as 15 racing days (down from 46) in a calendar year. While 15 doesn't seem like much to a thoroughbred enthusiast, it's a whole lot more than last year's activity (zero) or the year before that (zero) at Garden City's Les Bois race track. If Senate Bill 1133 doesn't succeed, promoters say the track will be silent again this year and maybe for good.

"If we don't do something this year, we may never get horse racing back," Nancy Vannorsdel, board member of the Idaho Horsemen's Association, told legislators.

The bill, still being re-worked by the Senate State Affairs Committee, was expected to be the carrot-on-the-stick to get horses into the starting gate as early as this spring.

But any chance of seeing the ponies run was handicapped on March 15 when Ada County Commissioners rejected the one (and only) bid to take over operations at Les Bois.

A group, calling itself Treasure Valley Racing LLC, responded to Ada County's request for new leaseholders at the Garden City track. TVR is comprised of The Greene Group (operators of a simulcasting facility in Post Falls) and at least three partners: Harry Bettis, Larry Williams and Jim Grigsby. None would talk to BW before Tuesday's meeting and they were in no mood to comment when their bid was rejected. Each shook his head and waved off BW's request for comment.

"I'm not terribly surprised Ada County commissioners rejected their bid," said Robert Cooke, managing editor of Boise-based The Racing Journal. "But I am surprised that they rejected the bid for so many reasons."

Commissioners cited five problems with Treasure Valley Racing's bid, including an insistence of a lease over five years and an insufficient $10,000 cash bond.

"It's been nearly impossible to operate Les Bois the past couple of years," said Cheryl Keshian, president of Idaho Thoroughbred Association. "Any new operator is not expected to make great profits."

But Keshian said the new bill before the State Senate, allowing a more limited racing season, could possibly curb a new operator's losses.

Duayne Diderickson, former operator at Les Bois, testified in support of the bill and told lawmakers that the economic boost would be significant.

"The last impact study I saw said that the track generated $25-$30 million to the Treasure Valley," Diderickson said. "And that didn't even include our payroll, which ran about $1 million."

SB 1133 includes an emergency clause that would allow enactment sooner than later. The 2011 Kentucky Derby is scheduled for May 7, and up until 2008 that date had marked the opening weekend at Les Bois.

But given the rejection of their latest bid to open the gates at Les Bois, Treasure Valley Racing may have to do some creative jockeying in the downstretch.

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