Illinois Racetrack Closing Displaces Standardbreds

Illinois Racetrack Closing Displaces Standardbreds

Photo: iStock

Nearly 100 Standardbred racehorses residing at an Illinois track were displaced earlier this month when the track permanently closed.

Mickey Ezzo, special projects manager for the Illinois Racing Board, said the final harness race took place at Maywood Park in Melrose Park, on Oct. 2. The closing displaced about 98 Standardbreds residing on the racetrack's backside, he said.

But the closing doesn’t mean the horses' careers will come to an end.

“The majority of those horses will continue to race at Balmoral (Maywood's sister track in Crete, Illinois) or at other tracks,” Ezzo said. ”Also, some of those horses will be sold to their trainers or will go to horse sales.”

Susan Wellman, director of the American Standardbred Adoption Program in DeSoto, Wisconsin, added, “There's a lot of harness racing in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. As long as (the horses) can make the grade, they'll stay on the circuit.”

Those that don't will move on to second careers, be sold, or wind up at rescues where former harness racers are either rehomed or retired for life.

“We have 20 horses here now and we expect to receive more after Maywood's closing,” Wellman said. “And of course, there is the danger that some of these horses (could) be sold to kill buyers.”

Ezzo said the Illinois Racing Board does not have a specific rule preventing the owners or trainers of harness racing horses from selling animals to known kill buyers. However, he said, the state of Illinois has laws regarding horse slaughter. Under that statute, horses processing plants cannot be located in Illinois and no horses can be slaughtered in that state.

In any case, horse trainer Jill Girardi-Thomas believes it makes economic sense for Standardbred trainers and owners to keep their horses on the circuit and out of the kill pen. Girardi-Thomas said harness racing is often not as lucrative as Thoroughbred racing. As a result, owners and trainers want to keep their horses racing as long as possible.

“I learned a lot about equine soundness from Standardbred trainers,” Girardi-Thomas said. “These horse are not expendable to most owners and trainers; they really do care about them.”

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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