10/22/2009 11:00PM

Blue Ribbon to cease operations


Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla., will cease operations permanently when its current mixed meet ends on Nov. 28, the track's owner, the Choctaw Nation, announced on Thursday. Blue Ribbon began racing as a non-parimutuel track in the early 1960s, and the results of its races were officially recognized by the American Quarter Horse Association beginning in 1963. Blue Ribbon became Oklahoma's first parimutuel track, when it ran its first betting card on Aug. 30, 1984.

Blue Ribbon is currently operating a mixed meet for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. The facility also has a casino with 250 electronic gaming machines. The Choctaws purchased the track from Race Horses Inc., in November 2003.

"The sport of horse racing is struggling nationwide," Judy Allen, a spokesperson for the Choctaw Nation, said in a release. "We did our best and invested a lot of money to improve the local racing experience, but there just was not enough patron support to continue to operate the track."

Blue Ribbon has twice gone bankrupt, in 1997 and in 2002, according to the release. The Choctaws in 2003 purchased the track the day before it was to go to auction to settle a $3 million debt with the city of Sallisaw. The track had borrowed $2.4 million from the town in 1995.

Blue Ribbon employees willing to relocate to Durant, Okla., can apply for 1,000 new jobs available at the Choctaw Nation's expanded hotel and casino that is to open in February 2010.

For all associated with Blue Ribbon, it has been a harrowing week. Jockey Mark Pace died on Oct. 18 from injuries he suffered in the first race that afternoon at Blue Ribbon. Memorial servies for him will be held at the track 11 a.m. Saturday.