Race attendance tops 820 despite shortage of horses and jockeys
Organizers are calling Saturday’s horse races at Desert Park a big success despite a few glitches that almost derailed the event.
“It was fabulous. Absolutely great,” said Carol Youngberg, president of the Desert Park Exhibition Society. “Our attendance was a little less than our last race in August. But we had a shortage of horses and riders so we really didn’t know we were racing until Tuesday morning at 10 o’clock. That was a bit of a concern.”
Nonetheless, all five scheduled races ran, even though several horses were scratched from the program, and attendance at the event was 820, Youngberg said.
There was still some mud on the track after continuous rains on Friday, but the sun broke through the clouds and shone on the track most of Saturday. Nonetheless, Youngberg believes some people coming from more distant locations such as the coast may have cancelled their plans to attend due to the weather.
She is optimistic that the second race day, on Aug. 16, will have sufficient horses.
“We will have no trouble with horses or riders in August because Hastings isn’t running and every owner and trainer has told us they’ll support us,” said Youngberg. “It will be a big card… I think we’ll be all right.”
Most of Saturday’s races, however, ran with fewer than five horses and several horses were scratched from the program before the event.
The second race, a thoroughbred allowance, was supposed to have five horses, but in the end only two crossed the finish line.
Bedroom Bully was dropped from the program before the race began.
At the starting gate, Antsea Nansea proved to be antsy and had a panic attack, injuring herself. She too was scratched from the race.
Veterinarian Henry Kleinhofmeyer, who examined and stitched the horse afterwards, said she had a laceration above her eye and cuts and bruises over the rest of her body including her legs. She was expected to make a full recovery, Kleinhofmeyer said.
The race got underway with three horses, but on the final bend, Spud, a seven-year-old gelding, who was trailing in third place, decided he wanted to return to the barns rather than go on to the finish line.
“I kept trying to pull him back towards the track, but he just wouldn’t go,” said jockey Mikala Harris, who was thrown from Spud’s back and under the rail, suffering minor injuries to her fingers and back.
Harris, from Colville, WA, also competed in the first race, but she was prevented from competing in the third, fourth and fifth races because of concerns about her back injury.
She watched the remaining races from the sidelines, admitting she was disappointed. Several horses had to be scratched from later races because there was no jockey to take her place.
Tom Shields, who once again called the races, believes the slower economy and competition from other forms of gaming have hurt horse racing.
“I guess it’s just a sign of the times,” said Shields, who also called races at Desert Park in the 1990s. “If we go back 20 years or so, we used to have 120 head of horses out in the stalls and a waiting list to get in the races. We refer to that as the good old days.”
Shields said that after Harris was injured, it left only five riders, so that was the most that could run in any race. Only the fourth race, a quarter horse allowance, saw five horses run.
Asked about the challenges that the Desert Park Exhibition Society faces, Shields was quick to add that the society has been doing an excellent job and the shortage of horses was out of its control.
“It’s doing fantastic with all those people,” Shields said. “There’s just a ton of people here helping out. It has noting to do with them – it’s horses, and now we’re finding out it’s jockeys. We never had a problem getting jockeys, but this year there was a shortage. So the industry’s obviously in a little bit of trouble.”