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Residents turn out in support of proposed racing facility
RATON – JULY 10, 2008 – Raton wants horse racing. That was the message clearly relayed by residents Thursday at a meeting of the New Mexico Racing Commission at the Shuler Theater downtown. The turnout of supporters for a new race track was as big as at any special event in recent memory, with every seat in the theater filled and rows of packed seats lining Second Street outside.
People came to hear what was going to happen with the proposed horse racing facility, which has been talked about in one form or another almost constantly since La Mesa Park was shut down in 1992.
Raton Mayor Joe Apache told the crowd and the racing commissioners: “We look forward to the day when we hear the call to the post and then, ‘They’re off!’ It will not only benefit Raton but the entire northeastern portion of New Mexico and southern Colorado.”
Michael Moldenhauer of Horse Racing at Raton LP, the organization that wants to build the facility, outlined what the plans included. The goal, he said, was “to become the premier provider of horse racing in New Mexico” and stressed that the facility would be among the best in the United States.
Highlights of Moldenhauer’s presentation
• The race track facility would be built on 225 acres of land near the junction of I-25 and Hwy. 555 at the southern end of Raton.
• Plans include a 53,000-square-foot facility, a 1-mile oval track with a 7-furlong chute, a 550-yard quarter horse track and 1,500 horse stalls.
• Also planned are a casino, an entertainment facility and simulcast races from other tracks.
• The racing facility would boost the economy, create jobs, increase tourism, generate traffic through the city and cause tourists to stay longer.
• There would be 52 race days per year with nine races per day.
• Key intangibles are quality, safety, responsibility, integrity and environmental-friendliness.
Across two phases of construction, Racing at Raton would pour between $115 million and $150 million into the project, which in the second phase would see the construction of a “hotel component,” a full-service truck stop, an RV park and an equestrian center.
If the state’s racing commission approves the project, the track would become the city’s largest employer as it draws customers from Colorado (six miles north), Texas and Oklahoma (approx. 85 miles east), Kansas (approx. 130 miles northeast) and from all over the northeastern quadrant of New Mexico.
In New Mexico’s Colfax County and southern Colorado’s Las Animas County there’s a population base of some 35,000, Moldenhauer said.
The public speaks out
Following a short speech from Raton City Manager P.J. Mileta Jr. and more from Apache, it was the audience’s turn to tell the racing commissioners why reinstating horse racing in Raton is important to them.
“Jobs are critical,” a former local educator said. Kids used to work at the track. We can’t go wrong when we provide jobs for our kids.
The mayor of Clayton, 80 miles east of Raton, said Clayton strongly endorses bringing horse racing back to Raton because the project would create new opportunities for both cities.
The racing facility would improve the community greatly, said a local business owner. It would increase the beauty of the town. It’s in our blood.
A former executive director of the Raton Chamber & Economic Development Council said the track would create “a major impact on the economic climate.”
A business owner pointed out that racing in Raton would bring people from all over, particularly from Texas, where U.S. 64/87 runs from west Texas directly into Raton.
“I’m scared in 30 years this will be a ghost town,” said a Raton resident. “I hope the race track comes to Raton.”
A Clayton resident called it a “no-brainer,” and another said she’d lived in the same house for 51 years and none of her now-grown children have been able to stay, because there are no good jobs. A third Clayton resident said this is a great opportunity to create jobs and enhance both communities in the years to come.
“The most important thing we have here is the preservation of small towns,” said a Clayton business owner. “We see the glass half full and running over when we finish.”
An audience member from neighboring Union County said, “It’s the only place that makes sense (to build a track).”
A Raton resident told how he started out washing dishes at La Mesa Park then worked as an outrider and on the starting gate. He also owned race horses. “If and when we get La Mesa Park going,” he said, “I’ll go back into the racing business.”
Then a comment from a Springer resident, which seemed to sum up what everybody wanted to know: “What’s the hold up?”
The commission, of course, made no decision Thursday, but the anticipation of many in the audience is that Raton will finally get its racetrack. About 18 years overdue, but welcomed with open arms just the same.