Weekend races will be the last for Blue Ribbon until 2004

Thursday, November 6th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Racing at Blue Ribbon Downs will be suspended after this weekend until next year as its new owners work to obtain a license for pari-mutuel meets.

Backstretch LLC, a Texas company formed by the Choctaw Nation last month, purchased the Sallisaw track for $4.25 million on Monday, a day before it was to be sold at a sheriff's auction.

Non-pari-mutuel races on Saturday and Sunday will serve as trials for the Black Gold Futurity and Mistletoe Allowance. Those races will be held Nov. 22-23 at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, said Judy Allen, executive director of public relations for the Choctaw Nation.

The tribe is working with the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission to get race dates for 2004, said Assistant Chief Mike Bailey. Choctaw officials will seek to increase the 45 racing days approved by the horse racing commission.

The commission and the state Attorney General's Office are working with the tribe on the licensing process, which Choctaw Chief Greg Pyle said may take some time.

Bailey said the tribe won't seek to put the track into federal trust status, which means it will remain on the property tax rolls.

The track is within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Choctaw tribe would need consent from the Cherokees to put the racetrack property into federal trust, according to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

``We hope the track succeeds, because we have more than 11,000 Cherokee citizens in Sequoyah County, so we obviously want the county's economy to do well,'' Cherokee spokesman Mike Miller said.

Pyle said tribal officials are focusing on the racetrack's condition.

``We saw a lot of need for just some pretty good upkeep,'' he said. ``But also a lot of repair needs to be done.''

The barns and other non-public areas are in most need of repair, Pyle said.

The tribe also has met with state horsemen over the past few days to outline their plans for Blue Ribbon Downs, the state's oldest racetrack, he said.

The meetings have been cordial, with representatives from some horsemen groups saying they just want to be treated fairly, he said.

``The horsemen, we've got to treat them really good,'' Pyle said. ``They had some legitimate concerns and I don't blame them. I think they were good concerns, and we need to address them all.''