BANGOR — Citing increased operating costs and a decrease in the number of horses stabled at Bangor Raceway’s main barn over the winter/offseason, parent company Penn National and the harness horsemen have tentatively agreed on a plan to close all track facilities down for two months.
The new barn, which was rebuilt a year ago at a cost of $90,000, can house nearly 100 horses, but for the last two years, less than 25 percent of the stalls have been used during the three-month offseason from December through March.
“Our main barn has 96 stalls. What it really came down to is during the season, it covers the cost of its own operation, but during the last two offseasons, we have less than 25 percent of the stalls occupied and being used,” said Hollywood Slots general manager John Osborne. “We’ve been looking at a few options.”
Bangor Raceway race secretary Fred Nichols, director of operations Corey Smith, and Osborne recently met with Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association officers Tim Powers, Wendy Ireland, Don Marean and Scott MacKenzie to discus those options. One was to take the total bill for utilities and include that in the rental cost for the horsemen stabling horses through the winter. Another was closing down for two months.
“The amount per stall would be very high, so that was one extreme option, but there wasn’t much interest in that,” Osborne said. “We last left it as keeping the barns open until mid-December until after Scarborough Downs ceases racing.”
The current plan is to close the facility from mid-December through mid-February.
“This seemed to be a compromise deal to close it for two months,” said Powers, a veterinarian, horse owner, and MHHA president. “The place probably wasn’t even coming close to breaking even. I’m guessing the utility bill alone was more than what they were taking in as far as rent.”
Most horsemen take their horses home with them in the offseason. Some, like Heath Campbell and Mike Hitchcock, take them to other states to continue racing year-round.
“The last two years, they’ve only had 20 to 25 horses there in the winter months,” said Powers.
The main barn also houses the paddock and offices. Bangor Raceway also has another renovated barn with a capacity for 72 horses, bringing the track’s total horse capacity to 168.
“In January we had 20 occupied stalls and this all resulted from their low occupancy the last years,” said Osborne. “We don’t try to make money. We just try to break even.”
Powers and Marean estimated the number of horsemen affected by the proposed closure is six to 10.
“I would say the ones affected are small stables,” said Marean, who is a lobbyist for both the MHHA and the Maine Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, an MHHA director, and owner of Lindon Farms in Hollis. “We don’t think it’s worth a battle and get on the wrong side with Penn because they’ve been great to work with and it’s not really affecting a lot of people.”
Marean admitted there have been grumblings by some MHHA members.
“We are hearing from a couple horsemen who are a little unhappy with it, but you can’t satisfy everyone, and we’ve not heard from anyone who said it absolutely, positively wouldn’t work for them,” he said.
The parties will meet again during the fall racing season.
“We think we may be talking again in September when we rejoin the fall racing season. We have plenty of time to make a final decision,” said Osborne.
Harness racing begins in Bangor on May 16. The racing season opened April 2 in Scarborough and finishes at that track on Dec. 18.