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Harness racing starting at racino

Harness racing begins today at the racino in Warren County, a move that will result in 40 more jobs at the Miami Valley Gaming complex and that is expected to attract as many as 1,000 horses, trainers, veterinarians and other horsemen from as far as Illinois and New York.

Miami Valley Gaming officials said the company has spent roughly $25 million on the track, grandstand, paddock and other buildings, furniture, fixtures and equipment purchased for the harness racing and simulcast operations. About 75 workers were involved in the project just east of Interstate 75, according to the Peter Sellers, director of construction for Delaware North Companies.

Miami Valley Gaming is a joint venture formed by Delaware North and Churchill Downs.

The live racing season, set to start at 6:30 pm on the all-weather 5/8-mile track, is the latest sign of the resurgence of the horse racing industry in Ohio. As recently as a decade ago, the industry credited supported 2,500 jobs and generated $1 billion a year in revenues in the state, said Jerry Knappenberger, general manager for the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association.

“There’s optimism in Ohio,” said Terry Deters, an Ohio native who returned this week for the racing season from Pompano Beach, Fla. and plans to stable 10 horses at the Warren County Fairgrounds, employ two or three workers, and live in Springboro. “The competition will be keen, but it offers a chance to race for a solid purse structure.”

Temperatures today are predicted to range from 9 to 16 degrees, well within the comfort zone of standardbreds, used to racing in 0 degree temperatures and wind chills as low as -15, said Gregg Keidel, racing secretary at Miami Valley Gaming.

On opening night, the top purse will be about $10,000, half going to the winning horse, up from about $4,000 before the racing was moved from Lebanon Raceway, Keidel said. The base purse also more than doubled to $3,000. There are 11 races scheduled.

“Purses and the quality of horses bring the gamblers to the windows,” said Roy Burns, a trainer in Union County, north of Springfield, as well as a director of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association (OHHA).

The prospect of winning fatter purses — subsidized through 9 percent to 11 percent of the net win on video slot machines at the racinos — has prompted a tripling of breeding of the standardbred horses used in harness racing in Ohio, from 688 in 2010 to more than 2,200 last year, according to industry data. Breeders are paid $1,000-$6,000 per breeding session.

Officials trace the turnaround to the expansion of legalized gambling in Ohio in 2012, that allows for racinos and casinos, also to offer games like roulette and blackjack.

Miami Valley Gaming’s two-month season will offer 66 days of harness racing, 14 more than last year, before the operation was moved out to the 120-acre site at Ohio 63 and Union Road. There will be 56 racing days at Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway, also 14 more than last year were held at Raceway Park in Toledo. The Dayton racino is expected to open in September. Racing is expected to begin in October.

There are no overnight stables at the Warren County racino, so competitors will have to transport the horses to and from the track. That means additional expenses for feed, hay and agricultural products, as well as gasoline, restaurants and lodging beyond Miami Valley Gaming’s investment.

“All those horses have to eat. They have to be cared for,” said Keidel, who also will serve as racing secretary for Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway.

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