Budget battle could be end of line for horse racing

ILLINOIS - ILLINOIS -- Harness racing may soon become a thing of the past. With dozens of races recently canceled due to the budget impasse, some horsemen say they're being forced to leave the state.

"Years ago, where there were 400 heads here, it was booming all the time."

Mike Brink has been involved in horse racing for more than 50-years and says it's just not the same anymore. He used to employ dozens and now, he's down to eight.

"I used to do a lot of county fairs when I was going for enough money, you could do it, but now, with the traveling you got to do to get there and the expense of everything, I just said I decided to quit doing it."

Funds being held up in the statehouse are beginning to show. Horsemen used to receive thousands of dollars at races. Now, it's just a couple hundred.

"We race for less than anybody else in the country and there's just more business to go somewhere. There's more money. They don't want to leave."

People are moving to neighboring states where competition payouts are bigger. Fewer people are breeding horses in the state too.

"We need help from legislators. We need slots. Put racetracks so we can be with Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania. That's where all of Illinois' horses and trainers are now moving to."

Not that long ago, there used to be about 50 horsemen out here training. Now, it's down to about a dozen.

"Everybody says it's dying, but it's not. We're being strangled by our Illinois' legislators, by not passing budgets, not putting slots at racetracks. It's a thriving industry, agriculture industry."

Watson says there used to be more than 400 horses at the state fair grounds. Now, there are only about 100. She says, without funds, it will continue to be a huge economic loss.

"For every one horse, there's four-to-five jobs related to that. You got, from your grooms to your vets, shoesters and we buy hayfields, drive trucks and trailers on the road."

More than a dozen harness races have been canceled this year. Officials at the Illinois State Fair say, as of now, they'll continue with planned races in August.


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