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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bright Future for Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding in Iowa

Country music superstar Toby Keith is among those who are convinced that blue skies remain ahead for the Iowa Thoroughbred industry and for racing at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino (PMRC).

“I have the ability to race my horses anywhere in the country but I send them to Iowa because the purses are lucrative, the racing is competitive, the racing surface is safe and always well-maintained, the facility is fan-friendly and modern, and the staff does a great job,” said Keith, the owner of Dream Walkin Farms, who won the $100,000 Saylorville Stakes with Ghost Locket during the prestigious Prairie Meadows Festival of Racing on June 26th.

Over the past few years, and with bi-partisan support in both houses of the state legislature and from Governor Terry Branstad, a longtime supporter of racing, the Thoroughbred industry has stabilized in Iowa and continues to support the state-wide agricultural network.  Favorable legislation passed in 2011 established a minimum of 67 live Thoroughbred racing dates at PMRC each year and a minimum 11% of PMRC’s gross gaming revenues for purses each year.

Since those issues were resolved, the Iowa Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, which represents more than 1,200 Thoroughbred owners and trainers, and the management team of PMRC have moved forward in a spirit of cooperation with impressive results that bode well for the future:

In a single year- 2014 to 2015- the positive results include:
• Thoroughbred breeding in Iowa has increased 17%. This counters the national trend where foal crops have stayed flat.
• Combined on-track at PMRC and off-track wagering at PMRC increased 19%.
• Attendance on-track is up - year-to-date through June is above yearly projections 4.6%.
• Horsemen and women from out-of-state and around the country are coming to Iowa to participate in the Thoroughbred program and are contributing to the local and state economy.
• PMRC backside stall use is up 5% during its peak usage.
• Horses per each PMRC live race average 7.3 and remains stable, while other tracks in the region and across the country have difficulty filling races.

“The upswing we are experiencing is dramatic and every trend indicates that will continue,” said Leroy Gessmann, the president of the Iowa HBPA and a longtime owner and breeder in the state. “Although there were some tough issues we had to work through, the horsemen and track management have come together to ensure that the Thoroughbred industry not only survives, but thrives, in this state that has a long and proud history with horse racing.”

Gary Palmer, president and CEO of PMRC, said, “We see racing continuing to be a part of our overall business and don’t have any plans or desires to change that. Horse racing is integral to the state of Iowa’s agricultural business and benefits the state substantially by having this home-grown industry. While we may invest $20 million in purses and another $10 million in running the racing operation, the economic impact of horse racing in our state is significant.”

While there has been some recent opposition expressed concerning PMRC’s live racing schedule change, Palmer explained the reasoning. “Horse racing is an added incentive to bring fans and their families out to the entire complex, which is why PMRC advocated a Thursday through Sunday racing schedule,” he said.

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