I’ll be the first to admit the sport of Horse Racing gets a bad rap, and sometimes, it’s merited. I hold that rap solely responsible for the dwindling attendance at racetracks around the county and for the dwindling fan base in general.
Gone are the weekends where 30,000 or 40,000 fans who would show up at major racetrack to watch a simple $50,000 Stakes or Handicap race. It’s sad really, but between greedy owners, trainers using banned substances and nothing short of life ending, catastrophic injuries to these magnificent athletes, it’s really no wonder the fan support thru the years has been on the decline.
Off-Track Betting, Simulcasting and the invention of the internet (online gambling) should also take some of the blame as well.
But all is not lost in the sport and especially from the human aspect. I realize I just said that “owner greed” has added to the problems of the sport and, for the most part, they have.
However, there are some darn good horse owners out there; I have the privilege of knowing quite a few of them actually.
One, actually two, in particular that now stand out in my mind are Richard and Karen Papiese, co-owners of the powerhouse Midwest Thoroughbred Inc.
Let me be clear, I don’t know them personally but I sure would like to meet them and shake their hands for the generosity they shared recently.
With his wife Karen by his side, Richard Papiese, a 52-year-old Chicago businessman who owns Midwest Store Fixtures, got into the racing game with just two horses in 2001. His operation has grown at an alarming rate for the next eight years before teaming with trainer Jamie Ness in 2009. As a pair, they took Midwest to a new level.
The list of achievements this organization has accomplished is mind boggling and probably too many to mention, but I’ll try a few just to give you an idea:
****Oaklawn’s leading owner in 2012 with 45 wins.
****Midwest broke a 38-year record by winning 501 races nationally through Nov. 30. in 2012 (The previous record was 494 set by Dan Lasater in 1974.)
**** Midwest won 310 races in 2010, 418 in ‘11 and more than 500 in ’12. Those wins come through the claiming game as they never won a Graded stakes race.
**** Midwest leased Hawthorne Racecourse in Chicago during the summer of 2012 to use as a training center for their now (almost) 200 horses there.
**** Ranked first in the nation by earnings and most wins in 2011 and 2012 and ranked first by wins in 2010 and second in earnings that same year.
Get my drift here? Anyway, back in July of 2011, the Papiese’s were frantic and spared no expense to save one of their mares who required emergency surgery from a bout with colic.
At the same time, Donna Keen, owner of the small but hard working nonprofit origination called Remember Me Rescue of Texas, was making the gut wrenching decision to euthanize a broodmare they’d only just rescued from the slaughterhouse several weeks earlier, because the mare, Karitsas Punch, also had colic. Remember Me Rescue of Texas and Ms. Keen simply did not have the funds for the same surgery the Midwest Thoroughbred mare had.
Shortly after the Midwest mare was saved and Karitsas Punch was humanly put down, Ms. Keen posted her heartbreaking story on her Facebook page so that her friends, relatives and the mare’s fans could be updated on the situation.
Papiese, who rarely read or kept up with Facebook, happened to read Keen’s story and picked up the phone.
“He called me and said how terrible he felt, and that he had a horse with colic the same day,” Keen said. “He had the resources to save his horse, and felt terrible that we didn’t.”
Papiese immediately wrote out a $10,000 check to the charity, and in her excitement, Keen told Papiese she would use the money to build a new barn to house her ex-racehorses.
“I started telling him how we had to keep some horses outside, and they’re cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and right before we got off the phone, he said, “I’m going to build you a barn.”
About 10 days ago, the trucks rolled in and work crews got busy, transforming her modest facility in Burleson, TX. into something she’d previously only dreamed of….a 20 stall, state of the art barn.
Crews reworked the dirt on about a half-acre of the property and assured proper drainage spots also.
The trusses, rafters and wood arrived this week, and the gates and windows arrived earlier in the month.
“The whole thing should be done in about two weeks!” Keen said.
The facility, which is built with hurricane resistant specifications as Papiese barns are, is a “Godsend” Keen stated.
“Rich Papiese didn’t want anybody to know about the barn at first, but we convinced him that people need to know that people like him, the real champions of racing, are out there,” Keen says.
“We are super thankful for this,” Keen added. “I’ve told people we’d be happy with a tent. I was keeping horses outside in little paddocks. They got wet when it rained, and were so hot in the sun that we had to bathe them three times a day”.
“Thanks to Rich and Karen Papiese, our horses will have a solid roof over their heads, and Remember Me Rescue will be able to take in more horses after their career are over”
Finally, a Horse Racing story with a happy ending…