Another successful spring Thoroughbred racing season has come to a close at Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs, which has been in operation for 10 consecutive years. The meet ended with a perfect safety record.
The 30-day meet ran from March 14 through May 21. Each race day offered more than $100,000 in purses, running eight to 12 races per day.
More than $19 million was handled for the meet. The daily average for Saturdays increased by 25 percent over the previous year, including gains on both Kentucky Derby and Preakness days, with the Preakness up an impressive 31 percent as compared to 2015.
John Lies came on board as racing secretary just prior to the meet and says he is excited about the outcome.
“My first season as racing secretary was a memorable one. We are proud to end the 2016 season with such momentum,” said Lies. “We learned a few things that make us very hopeful our 2017 season will be an even stronger one. We also hope word of our perfect safety record spreads like wildfire and encourages other horsemen to consider participating in next year’s meet.”
Will Rogers Downs offered more than $3.5 million in total purses for the year, including a 10 percent purse increase for all overnight races. Average field size for the Monday and Tuesday programs grew slightly from last year to roughly eight starters per race.
Bryan McNeil, from Jones, was the leading rider this year. McNeil picked up 38 victories during the year, three better than his nearest competitor, Curtis Kimes.
The leading trainer this year was Scott Young, from Pryor. He won 30 total races. Finishing second was Roger Engel, from Vinita, with 29 wins on the season.
The leading owner for the 2016 season was T and M Precision Services LLC, winning 13 races for the year.
The stunning gray Oklahoma-bred gelding Welder, who was a perfect two for two at Will Rogers Downs, earned 2016 Horse of the Meet. Welder is owned by Ra-Max Farm LLC, of Claremore, and trained by Theresa Sue Luneack, also of Claremore. The 3-year-old gelding earned $47,390 for the meet, earning a victory in the TRAO Classic Sprint against older horses, clinching him the Horse of the Meet honors. Welder is by Oklahoma stallion The Visualiser, who stands at Mighty Acres.
“We finished up much stronger than in spring 2015,” said Lies. “We always focus on the safety of the horses, as well as the jockeys, to create a safe environment for them to compete. We’re proud to say we’ve done that. Our perfect safety record is a remarkable fact and one I’m proud of. We’re looking forward to the safe success this fall for the start of Quarter Horse racing.”