CNE leases Blue Ribbon Downs as training facility
Cherokee Nation citizen Bob Roughton wets down
Oliver of Sallisaw rides "Spike's Champ" on the track at
Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla. Cherokee Nation Entertainment and the
Sallisaw Equine Training Center recently reached an agreement allowing the SETC
to operate a training facility on the property. PHOTO BY CRAIG HENRY
By WESLEY MAHAN
SALLISAW, Okla. – The former horseracing track Blue Ribbon Downs recently received a new lease on life when Cherokee Nation Entertainment and the Sallisaw Equine Training Center reached an agreement allowing the SETC to operate a training facility on the property.
The SETC will use barns, stalls and the track for training horses to race at other tracks, CNE officials said.
“A training track meets a critical need for local trainers and the horse racing industry in our part of the state,” CNE CEO David Stewart said.
CNE retains the rights to BRD’s main building and the rest of the nearly 100-acre property that the tribe purchased from the Choctaw Nation for $2.5 million in December. CNE also owns and operates Will Rogers Downs in Claremore.
Both CNE and SETC officials declined Cherokee Phoenix questions regarding the lease agreement’s monetary terms. The Phoenix has requested the information via the tribe’s Freedom of Information Act.
Before the lease agreement, Principal Chief Chad Smith quashed the idea of re-opening BRD as a pari-mutuel horse track, citing financial reasons.
“It has proven over the last two decades, under a whole host of owners, that it just can’t make its way as a racetrack,” Smith said.
However, the tribe was willing to re-open the facility as a horse training facility to utilize all of its assets, Rick Holloway, CEO of SETC, said.
“A group of us approached them (tribal officials) about leasing it. We leased it from the Cherokees to operate it as a horse racing training facility,” he said.
Holloway said the facility is capable of accommodating close to 700 horses and open to anyone wanting to lease stalls or use the track to train horses..
He added that a major benefit for local horsemen will be the ability to record official works.
“We are working on it, and I’m very confident that very shortly we will have official works here at the training facility,” he said. “These trainers need official works so they don’t have to haul their horses hundreds of miles on a regular basis. That’s one of the true benefits of this facility here in Sallisaw, is it’s going to allow these horse trainer and owners to train locally without the expense of traveling long distances.”
Holloway said he hopes BRD becomes a destination for trainers in the region.
“Our goal is to make it the premier training facility in this part of the country. We have a world-class racetrack for horses to train on. We maintain the track daily and it’s in excellent condition. We have all the facilities a trainer could want or need to train their horses at such a degree to be competitive in the horse racing industry,” he said.
Not only are area horse trainers glad to see the track re-opened, but Holloway said Sallisaw municipal officials are as well because the track’s closing in November damaged the local economy.
“People have come by everyday to thank us for reopening the facility. People have come out to volunteer their time and effort to get the property back to its pristine condition. I think the community is very grateful that the Cherokee Nation decided to reopen this facility,” he said.
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