STARKVILLE — Mississippi Horse Park director Bricklee Miller says a local engineer is currently developing plans to repair the facility’s damaged harness racing track, but funding is needed to go forward on the project.
Once repair plans and cost estimates are finalized, Miller said she would approach the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors about funding options.
In May, representatives from the Mississippi Trotting Association said the facility could become one of the most-used racing venues in the South if repairs are made.
Miller said Wednesday a lack of events in the past reflects a low desire to consistently use the facility.
Heavy rains over the past two years developed dangerous washes in the track’s foundation, Miller said. A previous annual inspection by Mississippi State University deemed the track unsafe until repairs are made.
Because of the Horse Park’s connection with MSU and potential liability issues with racers and their horses, Miller said her organization contacted County Engineer Clyde Pritchard to develop repair plans.
In May, MTA President Eric Tinsey said members of his organization and the national trotting group could provide assistance with repairs, but Miller said repairs must be planned and approved by properly trained professionals.
Burns Dirt Company — which built the track — previously delivered a $38,648 quote to remove the track’s top surface, cut the it down to grade and repair the foundation.
“We’ll go back (to the board of supervisors) to see if they’re willing to pay for repairs or willing to fix it, but (repairs have) to be done by an engineer’s standards (due to liability issues).
“Safety is a huge concern at the Horse Park, and we certainly don’t want a rider or their animal hurt. If we do not fix (the track) correctly, then we are setting ourselves up to be liable. I feel responsible for everyone who comes out to our facility,” Miller said.
The harness track was constructed in 1999 with funds provided by the state and was rented on four different occasions through 2007.
Between January 2007 and June 2008, MSU improved the track by moving and clearing a hill at the center of the track, an expense which totaled $500,000. A reopening was held June 20, 2008 to entice events back to the track, Miller said. On Sept. 27, 2008, a sanctioned horse race was canceled after only six horses were entered.
Although $1.4 million was invested in the harness track, events have only provided $1,400 in returns. In May, Tinsey said his organization would be more than interested in returning to the facility if repairs are made.
“Our dream scenario is two days of intense racing while there’s a fair or rodeo or something going on at the horse park in conjunction with our event,” he said in May. “Racing is our second life, and that limestone track will bring racers. We’ll spend money in hotels, rent stalls, go out and eat, buy gas and go shopping.”
In a presentation to the board of supervisors Monday, Miller said the Horse Park attracted 36,690 people to Oktibbeha County last year, almost 8 percent more than 2010’s previous attendance record. Miller credits events such as the MSU Bulldog Classic AQHA Show and the Lucky Dog Barrel Racing event as boosting this year’s attendance numbers.
“The Horse Park events are continually bringing people in to the community, and that’s what our focus is. For over 40 weekends a year, we’re bringing people to Oktibbeha County,” Miller said.