New Mexico’s horse racing industry in peril as casinos remain closed due to pandemic

New Mexico

SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (KTSM) — Casinos in the state of New Mexico, including facilities Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino, have had their doors closed for months due to the pandemic, and one Borderland-based racehorse trainer fears this could be the end of the racehorse industry in New Mexico.

“I beg the governor to open the casinos. I mean, it’s killing the No. 3 industry in the state, which might never recover,” Todd Fincher said of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order to close casinos to stop the spread of COVID-19. “And as long as those casinos have the protocols and the means to keep everyone safe, she (Governor Lujan Grisham) should really consider opening the casinos and allowing this industry to come back.”

Fincher tells KTSM 9 News that he travels from track to track across the state of New Mexico to racehorses. However, with casinos closed and races being postponed, he said he, along with hundreds of other racehorse trainers, have nowhere to take their horses.

“I’m calling my clients and telling them. ‘You need to come get your horse, there’s nowhere to take them.’ It’s going to kill this industry,” he said.

Fincher told KTSM he planned to go to Sunland Park Racetrack after finishing a race in Hobbs, New Mexico, this week, but said the upcoming race was postponed and the facility is closed. He said he is worried that bad things will happen to some horses as people struggle to find places to send them.

“Unfortunately, some people just won’t take care of them and then the horse is going to be the one who’s going to suffer too, not only all these people that are going to be out of a job and nowhere to go,” said Fincher. “But unfortunately these horses, in some circumstances, people are not going to care for their horses.”

Fincher explained that he sent some of his horses to other states, as have many other New Mexico trainers. He said he’s considering moving his operations to another state, states that according to the New Mexico Racing Commission are currently doing well in the horse racing industry despite the pandemic.

“Racing is actually flourishing in a lot of other jurisdictions, purses are increasing. They’re parimutuel handle, which is the money that people bet on the horses, are increasing. And it’s a tough pill to swallow when I sit here in Albuquerque reading industry publications and seeing that other jurisdictions are doing well while were struggling quite a bit,” said Ismael Trejo, executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission.

Slot machines generate a lot of prize money for horse racing, Trejo told KTSM, adding that 20 percent of the money from slot machines automatically goes to the purse fund, which is the money for which the horses race.

“So, with the slot machines being shut down since March 16, 2020, no money has been generated for purses,” Trejo said. “So now the problem becomes multifold: not only are we dealing with the pandemic and safety issues, no racing is facing a very significant challenge with having money to run for.”

Trejo explained that in New Mexico, there are five different racing facilities across the state, some of which have held races, but he said with no money coming in from slot machines, money’s running out.

“Typically, a lot of the horsemen move from track to track like gypsies, so to speak, they do move around quite a bit. And this has been a problem because there’s no clarity in the future here in New Mexico as far as horse racing goes when are we going to run, and how much money is available. We know the question to how much money is available and it’s becoming very, very small.”

Trejo added that he’s dealt with hurricanes, tornadoes and equine herpes virus in the racehorse industry, but COVID-19 has done the most significant damage out of all of them.

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