It sure would be nice to know what the horses think of Expo Square’s new $19 million barn. Because everyone else can’t seem to say enough good things about it.
Longtime trainer Tim Dixon calls it “a helluva barn.”
“It’s really got some of the nicest stalls in any racetrack I’ve ever been to, and I go to Oaklawn Park, I go to Delta Downs,” Dixon said Friday. “I go to all the racetracks, bigger racetracks than this that put on the big meets.”
The investment might seem counter-intuitive. It has been many years since the fairgrounds’ summer horse racing meet at Fair Meadows Race Track drew more than a few hundred spectators.
But Mark Enterline, general manager of the live racing meeting, said things are looking up. The number of patrons, the amount of wagering and applications for stalls have all increased this year.
“Everything is doing a little better this year than in the past,” Enterline said. “In a world of racing where you just hope to stay flat, it’s real exciting to see things happen.”
The new barn was constructed just north of the old racetrack grandstand, which has been removed, and sits next to the track. Spectators can purchase concessions on the first floor before walking a few steps to the paddock to watch horses before they head out to the track.
A large patio area provides a good view of the entire track, and an upstairs balcony is available for rent.
“It is a much better experience for both sides — the horse owner/trainer and the patron coming out to watch,” Enterline said.
The barn was one of the first Vision Tulsa projects completed. The city sales tax package was approved by voters in April 2016, and construction began in October 2017. A year later, the approximately 140,000-square-foot structure was full of horses, trainers and owners for another kind of equine event — the annual U.S. National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show.
The Arabian Horse show and others like it bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year into the local economy, according to the Tulsa Regional Chamber. The Arabian Horse Show alone draws more than 3,000 horses, each accompanied by a retinue of trainers, owners and other supporters.
“As other facilities around the country are modernizing, Expo Square has had the vision to know it needs to do the same,” said Glenn Petty with the Arabian Horse Association. “It’s the quality of the stalls in the new barn that make our horses safe and makes our exhibitors really love coming to Tulsa.
“And it’s icing on the cake to have the schooling ring inside the barn that provides weather insurance.”
Mark Andrus, president and CEO of Expo Square, said that without the new barn, the fairgrounds would have been in jeopardy of losing other horse shows. The fairgrounds is also home to the Breeder’s Invitational, Pinto World Championship, and the National Snaffle Bit Association World Championship, to name a few.
“Four of our major shows were almost outgrowing us,” Andrus said. “So this puts us that we have over 2,200 new stalls on property, and for the Arabian and Half-Arabian show ... we still have to rent stalls.”
For the next three weeks, however, the barn — which could also play host to livestock shows — will belong to the jockeys, trainers and horses participating in this year’s live racing meeting. And although one will never know what the horses think of the new facility, longtime trainer Gary Walker has a hunch.
“The easiest thing about this (barn) is the convenience to the racetrack and the convenience to the saddling paddock,” Walker said. “We race at Remington (Park) and other jurisdictions, and there is a tremendous amount of stress on a young horse that has to walk from the backside of Remington Park to the front side, and some of these horses can’t take that stress.
“When you can go from your stall to the saddling paddock in 2½ minutes and go from your stall to the racetrack in 3 minutes, it makes a huge, huge difference on some horses.”
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