Race cancellations felt deeply in area

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Cancellation of horse racing this year at Dayton, Waitsburg and Walla Walla tracks was bad news for many today.

Melissa Hansen, race manager and treasurer for Dayton Days, said volunteers were "really disappointed."

"We knew the reality of it was that there would be less days. Three communities are going to be impacted, and for Dayton and Waitsburg that's a big impact, because these are big events," she said.

Days of Real Sport, held annually in Waitsburg since 1913, will probably go dark for a year and apply for the third week of May of next year, President Dan McKinley said this morning. The two-day event features parimutuel racing, a parade, a social event and queen coronation.

Dayton Days will celebrate its 93rd anniversary this year. The rodeo and parimutuel racing are traditionally held over Memorial Day weekend and fills the community with visitors.

Hansen said last year she had talked to some Dayton businesses about the impact of the three-day weekend on their businesses. One grocery store owner told her during Dayton Days weekend the store's business was bigger than the entire month of September. She also learned motels were always full on that weekend and had to turn people away.

Another effect, if the event is canceled, would be on income for by the Kiwanis and Lions Club, which run food booths. Money they earn is spent on community projects, Hansen said.

McKinley said the Waitsburg Lions Club and other local clubs also depend on the weekend to hold fundraisers.

Race horse owners will also be impacted, Hansen said. Although racing will continue at Emerald Downs in Auburn, "with the rising price of diesel, that's going to make it very hard for them. Going to Emerald is out of the question for them."

Local horse trainers will have their chances at winning purses reduced from 18 to the six days in Kennewick, McKinley said.

Hansen said the rodeo that runs concurrently with the parimutuel racing may be endangered, but "I can't really say we're not going to do anything until I meet with my board." The organization faces a $6,000 liability insurance bill for the weekend, whether or not racing is part of the event, she said.

Oregon tracks open after Memorial Day Weekend, so horse owners have that as an option, she said.

An attempt to contact Cory Hewitt, Walla Walla County fairgrounds general manager, was not successful. Hewitt was at Thursday's meeting of the Washington Horse Racing Commission.

However, Hewitt said last month that in the years she has been involved with horse racing at the fair, there have always been problems. But this year is different.

"We're going to do what we can," she said at that time. "There's always something, but this one really hurts."

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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