Think of Oklahoma and you will most likely think of horses. Oklahoma is the horse show capital of the world and home to some of the most elite breeders, trainers and exhibitors in the business. Horses provide an estimated $3.6 billion economic impact to the state and create an estimated 35,000 full-time-equivalent jobs, according to Constantin Rieger, executive director of the Oklahoma Racing Commission.
Horse racing on the state’s three major racetracks represents a substantial portion of that economic impact – a half billion and growing – from the state’s more than 14,000 racehorses and 800 breeding horses. The three major tracks are Remington Park, Fair Meadows and Will Rogers Downs.
“Horse racing was on life support,” says Scott Wells, president and general manager of Remington Park. “Back in January 2005, our purses were $64,000 a day. Now, our purses are $240,000 a day. I think we have a bright future.”
Remington Park, opened in 1988, hosts quarter horse and thoroughbred racing and also offers simulcast wagering and a casino.
Bigger Purses, Better Races
The Oklahoma legislature passed a bill in 2005 that allowed taxes from gaming to help fund not only horse racing purses, but education. Last year, more than $18 million went to education. In the past nine years, more than $115 million has gone to education.
“The bill has done everything it was projected to do and more,” Wells says. “And that’s with limitations of 750 machines and no more than 18 hours of gaming in a given day.”
Wells has seen breeding numbers increase along with the increase in purses at the tracks.
“We’ve seen the quality of our racing increase as well as the simulcast export has improved,” Wells says. “There’s more interest in breeding and owning horses. We’ve seen a vital agriculture industry become viable.”
Micah and Leslie McKinney breed and race quarter horses in Oklahoma at their ranch, the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla. They moved (horses and all) from central Texas a year ago because they felt Oklahoma had many more opportunities for racing and breeding.
“Oklahoma right now is the best place to run quarter horses in the world,” says Micah McKinney. “When the opportunity came to purchase a ranch in Oklahoma, we jumped at the chance.
“My family raised quarter horses for roping and rodeoing, and in 1988 we had one racehorse,” he says. “He won his first race and nothing after that. We didn’t get back into horse racing for 10 years when my dad decided we should buy some racehorses.”
He and his wife studied pedigrees for weeks and eventually purchased three mares and two yearlings, and bred them to a New Mexico stallion.
“That got us started and now, this is our life,” he says. “We love it.”
Breeders, owners and trainers like the McKinneys create more than 3,600 direct jobs in Oklahoma and another 2,840 indirect jobs, according to the Oklahoma Equine Industry Study commissioned by the Oklahoma Equine Alliance. The study notes that each of the state’s more than 14,000 racehorses generates an economic impact of $34,700.