‘Relief’ at Les Bois Park as racing season moves forward

As the future of their business was decided at the Capitol, the employees of Les Bois Park had to continue preparing for a season that at best would be a fraction of what was expected, with a total shutdown possible June 30.

However, a veto of a bill on Monday by Gov. Butch Otter to end instant racing machines in the state and a subsequent failure by the Senate to override it allowed the season to continue as planned.

"People have been in this twilight zone, not knowing if they'd have jobs, not knowing if they'd want to send horses here, but now they're relieved there's some certainty going forward," Treasure Valley Racing President John Sheldon said.

In Saturday's Idaho Statesman, we'll take a look at what the veto has meant to the track and its future, with thoughts from those who would have had to move to find work, give up the sport or retire altogether. If the bill went through, the season would have started May 16 and concluded with the track's shutdown the last day of June, with perhaps only a half-dozen live racing dates. Now, there will be 32, wrapping up Aug. 8.

"I'm thankful, glad we can keep going -- we need (the machines) or else we were dead," said trainer/owner Kenny McReynolds, who first jockeyed a horse 60 years ago. "... I was tired of moving. It's been a relief for a lot of people."

With so much unknown about the track's fate, horse owners from around the West were hesitant to send horses to Les Bois Park, while sponsors also were reluctant to sign on if the season were to be so abbreviated. Now, general manager said he expects the 250 horses currently in stables at Les Bois to nearly triple in the next week, while Sheldon will hire about 170 seasonal workers in the next month.

"We're going to be more conscious about how many lives we affect, because when you're so close to losing it, you appreciate it more -- we'll treat the horsemen better, the public better, ourselves better," Didericksen said.