And they’re off — the Desert Park Exhibition Society is bringing horse racing back to Osoyoos this summer for the first time in over a decade.
“I think it is very exciting,” said Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells. “There will be people that will be very excited for the two days of horse racing. I think it will draw a lot of people here.”
The Desert Park Exhibition Society has announced that June 15 and Aug. 31 will see the return of horse racing to the community. It has been a long process to get there, starting with the South Interior Recreational Equestrian Centre who tried for two years to get the 40-acre facility running for a variety of usages. In 2011, SIREC and the Town of Osoyoos ended negotiations after council decided they could not lease the facility to a for-profit corporation. They dissolved and the Desert Park Exhibition Society, a not-for-profit, was created and signed a five-year contract with the Town of Osoyoos in November 2011 with two five-year renewable options.
“When you are a town you can’t really give a service or provide a building for less than fair market value, otherwise you could do it for every business in town. We don’t give a building to say an electrical company and give them a cut rate on their rent,” said Wells. “Some of that same group in the for-profit corporation then got together with others in town and came back as a not-for-profit so we are dealing now with a good group of volunteers, and anytime you have that they really can make things happen.”
Desert Park fell into disuse in the late ‘90s after horse racing ended and had been closed to equestrian activities since the mid-2000s until SIREC signed a short-term lease agreement with the Town of Osoyoos and began repairs. Now the Desert Park Exhibition Society is continuing that process.
“The main objective of the exhibition society is to host horse races, barrel racing, equestrian events and there is a section to hold events for the South Okanagan in the centre of the venue such as concerts. There is a potential for that but we have no confirmed dates just yet,” said Carol Youngberg, president of the Desert Park Exhibition Society. “We have bull riding coming in July and are just sorting out the details with that as well.”
Horse racing is scheduled for June 15 and Aug. 31 and will bring 64 horses each day into the 120 stalls at Desert Park. They will be split into eight heats on each of the days for the Okanagan Similkameen Interior Horse Racing Association circuit, which also runs in Vernon at Kin Park and in Princeton during Racing Days in June at Sunflower Downs. Youngberg said the dates fall perfectly into the shoulder season for Osoyoos.
“The June date is right before accommodation usually fills up in Osoyoos and August is typically when people are leaving. We also have accommodation on site with some fully serviced RV sites,” said Youngberg.
“I originally got involved with this because I wanted to see the facility remain in the hands of the community of Osoyoos and because I felt we need a little more activity in the area. This is not only going to boost the economy, but gives different things for people to do and the venue really does provide an opportunity to people who may want to entertain, put on a show or whatever in the community.”
The society president said extensive work has been done on the Desert Park track and buildings to prepare them for racing this summer. The grandstands are currently blocked off and not usable, but Youngberg said they will provide portable seating for events. They also are anticipating receiving funds from the provincial government and thoroughbred breeders association for purse money on racing days.
Youngberg said around the middle of April, a representative from the B.C. Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch will be at the venue to see if the society is up to snuff on the six-pages of guidelines they were given.
The society is currently looking for volunteers to help with maintenance, concessions, parking, security and beer gardens and a list of other jobs. Youngberg said anyone interested in volunteering is welcome to find out more during a recruiting meeting on March 27 at 7 p.m. at the Sonora Centre in Osoyoos or can contact her at 250-485-2238.