Horsemen Groups To Confront Tulsa County Fair Board Over Fair Meadows Closing

Wednesday, December 5th 2012, 7:43 pm
By: Emory Bryan

Oklahoma's horse racing community is ready to fight what they see as a breach of the state's compact with Indian tribes.

The Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority Board, in a deal to give naming rights to the Creek Nation, agreed to end horse racing at Fair Meadows and might have undermined yearly payments to horsemen that come from the tribe.

It's complicated, but it ultimately comes down to money. The tribes pay horsemen as part of a state compact and that money could be shut off due to the deal.

11/30/2012 Related Story: Tulsa County Fair Board May Reconsider Closing Racetrack At Meeting Next Week

The end of live racing at Fair Meadows isn't the main conflict, according to the state's horsemen. The races could be run elsewhere. It's the money the tribes pay to horsemen that's threatened, and that could undermine an entire industry.

"Our position is that that all three tribes, regardless of what Mr. Tiger says, owe us that money and we intend to get it," said Joe Lucas, of the Oklahoma Thoroughbred Association.

Representatives from the state's two horsemen groups are united in fighting what they believe is an illegal vote by the fair board that could eliminate tribal payments of about $6 million a year to horsemen.

With such high stakes, this group is asking the governor to enforce the state's compact with the tribes and preparing for a legal fight, as well.

Local horsemen say ending live racing at Fair Meadows, and cutting off the tribal payments would have a huge impact.

"Say you've got 400 horses there and three people come in for every horse: they're going to spend a lot of money and you know they'll be more people than that," said horse breeder Sam Hester. "I just don't think our county commissioners have thought this out very well."

The fair board is meeting Thursday to consider altering the agreement they've already made on the naming rights and plans to take limited public comment.

The horsemen plan to make their case there, but don't believe they'll ever race again at Fair Meadows.

Woodburn: "You have veterinarians, the feed stores, the grooms, the jockeys—right now there are 30 jockeys that run here that are losing the ability to race," said breeder Kenda Woodburn.

It's unclear whether the fair board can or will look at the overall agreement that's already been approved by the tribe and the county.

If they don't, the horsemen say they already have lawyers ready to go to court over it.