11/26/2009 1:00AM

Oklahoma bids farewell to Blue Ribbon

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Blue Ribbon Downs will be shuttered following its 12-race card on Saturday, but horsemen are hopeful racing might someday return to the Sallisaw, Okla., track, which in nearly 50 years of operation has showcased such world champion Quarter Horses as Easy Jet, Gold Coast Express, and Laico Bird.

"That racetrack has been a legend," said Debbie Schauf, executive director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association. "It's just a tragedy to see it close. It's devastating to horsemen all across the state, not just Quarter Horsemen. There's an abundance of Thoroughbred horsemen who make their living running at Blue Ribbon Downs."

Choctaw Nation, which has owned Blue Ribbon since November 2003, announced Oct. 22 that it would permanently cease operations at the track on the final day of its current mixed meet because of a lack of patron support. In addition to live racing, a casino of 250 electronic gaming machines will also close down at Blue Ribbon on Saturday, all at 6 p.m.

"We're still on the market for sale," said Judy Allen, a spokesperson for Choctaw Nation.

Schauf said horsemen are encouraging Choctaw Nation officials to sell the track to a party that would be interested in operating a race meet. As to whether there are any negotiations with prospective buyers, Allen said she was not at liberty to discuss that subject. Schauf said she believes racing will one day return to Blue Ribbon.

"I think there's a very good chance that in the future, not in the immediate future but within the next year or so, that we could see that racetrack open up," she said.

Schauf said about 35 to 40 percent of all Quarter Horse races run each year in Oklahoma were conducted at Blue Ribbon. As for the track's employees, Allen said they will receive their salaries through the end of December.

Blue Ribbon began racing as a non-parimutuel track in the early 1960s, with the results of its races first being officially recognized by the American Quarter Horse Association in 1963. It later became the first parimutuel track in Oklahoma, when it offered its initial betting card on Aug. 30, 1984.

One year prior, Blue Ribbon had held the richest non-parimutuel race in history when the Black Gold Futurity purse hit $1 million. This year, the $391,870 Black Gold Futurity Championship is one of five stakes that will be run on the closing card Saturday.

"It's going to be one of the saddest days in Oklahoma racing," said Schauf.

Lone Star holds richest race in Texas

Lone Star Park will close out its Quarter Horse meet Saturday night by running the richest race in Texas. The Grade 1, $1.1 million Texas Classic Futurity is led by Tempting Dash, who is 3 for 3 at the meet. In his last stakes appearance, he won the Grade 1, $445,185 Dash for Cash Futurity in track-record time, giving his trainer, Eusevio Huitron, a Grade 1 double on the Oct. 24 card. Earlier that night, Huitron sent out Charal Kid to capture the $202,200 Dash for Cash Derby.

Tempting Dash won his trial for the Texas Classic Futurity by 3 1/4 lengths after trouble at the start Nov. 14, and his time of 19.49 seconds for the 400 yards was the fastest of nine qualifying trials run for the Saturday finale.

Stolis Winner, the reigning world champion Quarter Horse, will be in action a few races earlier at Lone Star, in the Grade 1, $342,421 Texas Classic Derby.

Rich futurity at Evangeline

The richest race of the year at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, La., will be run on Saturday night, with a field of 10 statebred juveniles entered in the $540,656 Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeders Association Futurity. Among the top contenders in the 400-yard race are restricted Grade 1 winners Gametime, who is seeking his fifth straight win, and Dealagame, who goes for trainer Janet VanBebber.

* All American Futurity winner Runnning Brook Gal makes what is expected to be her final start of the year Sunday in the Southwest Juvenile Championship at Zia Park.