Walla Walla, Waitsburg, Dayton horse races nixed

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WALLA WALLA -- Horse racing in Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton has been nixed this year.

The Washington Horse Racing Commission on Thursday denied racing dates at Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton.

The fourth track in Eastern Washington, Sun Downs in Kennewick, will be allowed six racing dates.

The commissioners' decision to cancel racing at the tracks was difficult, but could not be avoided due to the lack of funds, said Doug Moore, racing commission deputy secretary.

If the (betting) handle hadn't declined, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Moore said today. "But the handle just isn't there."

Earlier this year racing commissioners warned track managers that money may not be available for racing in 2011.

The bulk of the money used to sustain operations at the four Eastern Washington tracks comes from a tax on wagering. Those tax revenues have dropped steadily since 2008 and are projected to drop again this year, said Robert Lopez, the commission's executive secretary.

At the racing commission's November meeting, Lopez said that even if race dates at the Eastern Washington tracks were cut to zero, projections show the commission's "fund balance will be negative by 2013." If that happens, horse racing in the state would be halted because the commission would be unable to function.

In an interview last month, Lopez said in 2010 the racing commission provided $328,754 to fund 19 days of racing at the four Eastern Washington tracks.

Sun Downs held 10 days of racing and the Walla Walla fairgrounds hosted five days. Waitsburg and Dayton each held two days of racing.

Washington state has five horse racing tracks.

These include the four Eastern Washington tracks and Emerald Downs in Auburn, the state's only for-profit track.

The racing commission provides the regulatory staff, photo-finish equipment and equine testing services for tracks as well as purse money for races, incentive money for jockeys and funds to pay for insurance the tracks need to operate.

Moore said the cancellation and cutbacks of race dates is "a huge loss for the sport in Eastern Washington." The decision will affect horse owners, trainers, jockeys and many others involved in horse racing.

"It personally breaks my heart," he said today.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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