Feeling The Pinch

by Ed Meyer

posted on March 20, 2009 in News | No Comments >>

Tracks of all sizes are feeling the sting. This is the case from the track where the Breeders’ Cup will be held, to the fair circuits that have been the backbone of many small towns. Either way, the evidence is there.

Karen Strongin, manager at the Cochise County Fairgrounds said last week that this year’s races, which had been scheduled for April 4-5 and 18-19, will not take place due to the lack of state funding.

“The state of Arizona is in such dire straights that many, many programs have been cut,” she said. “It’s been hard to get funding for them – county fair racing has been one of those programs that have been hit pretty hard.”

In previous years the state would give each fair $55,000 in purse money and $47,500 to help put on the races.

It costs an estimated $90,000 to put on the races each year.

Strongin adds that the last two years of racing in Douglas have seen record numbers with an estimated 10,000-11,000 people coming through the gates.

“We consider it a good meet if we break even,” Strongin said. “Our obligation here is to give people something fun to do at a cheap price … The board is trying to figure out a way to put on events out here without any state funding.”

Strongin said they are looking into other financial sources but in these tough economic times, it’s very difficult.

“We could raise our prices to make money,” she said. “But that’s not in our mission statement.”

Horse racing began at the fairgrounds in 1956. In 1998-99 financial difficulties prevented the races from taking place ending a 40+ year streak of consecutive racing.

“We have given up our dates for this year but not next year,” she said.

Turf Paradise in Phoenix is going to run the races for Cochise County this year, running this weekend and April 18-19.

Strongin said the Cochise County Fair will get two percent of the betting handle which could lead to about $10,000.

The El Moro de Cumpas race, which has become a very popular race at the Cochise County Fairgrounds the last four years, will be run in Sonoita this year instead, with the trials running as they have in previous years, in Safford.

Strongin says the fairgrounds are in great shape, and she would like to have the races, but without those state funds it’s just not possible.

“Our fair board looked very hard at the possibility of having just one weekend of racing with no special ‘frills’ and keeping it just the basic kind of racing,” she said. “Even that was not possible with the economy being the way that it is.”

Strongin said things are still in place for the Cochise County Fair which is scheduled for Sept. 24-27.

“We really don’t know what to expect from that,” she said of the fair. “We’re going to have to do some real serious cutting. … We’ll be looking at more local entertainment.”

Last year the County Fair received only half of its allotted state funding.

“This year we’re counting on no state funding,” she said. “We’ve made our budget around that.… We’re hoping to still provide a really good fair. The board is committed to doing that. There is no way we won’t have a fair.”

Strongin plans on keeping the standard admission fee at $6.

“We’re one of the best buys around for that price,” she said.

Overall exhibits and attendance were down last year but not to any large extent, she said.

“I think the exhibits were down because we quit paying premiums,” she said. “We just didn’t have the cash to do that.”

Money generated from the dances the fairgrounds puts on each month goes towards putting on the fair.

“This is one way we’re trying to replace that money we’re not going to be getting,” she said. “And if we do end up getting some help from the state then even better – it all goes towards putting on the fair.”

Strongin says while its disappointing that the fair grounds in not able to have the horse races this year, she has no doubt they’ll bounce back with a fun and entertaining horse racing series next year.