BOISE -- Managers say horse racing at Les Bois Park has an impact of millions of dollars on the Idaho economy. Just a few years ago some wondered if we'd ever see horse racing in the area again as Les Bois sat empty. But the latest Les Bois horse racing season is only a week away and those involved say the local ownership group is to thank.
Back in 2010, Les Bois was in its second year of sitting empty, with no live racing.
"It was heart wrenching when it closed," said Duayne Didericksen, General Manager of Les Bois Park. "That wasn't supposed to happen because it was a very successful venue."
"It was a very frustrating time," said Dru Hall, who has been a horse trainer at Les Bois for 20 years. "We just thought we were going to be dead."
But in 2011, a new all-local ownership group took over and ran a half season of racing. They tried to restore the trust of horse owners and trainers by putting in a new track surface and making improvements all over the park. Last year was the first full racing season since 2008. Now, it's just about a week until the gates open on the 2013 season, with 31 race days.
"It saved us," said Hall. "It's just like being in a boat and someone throwing you a lifesaver, because it was the only way it was going to happen. It wasn't going to happen without them, there's no way, and we're very appreciative."
And everyone involved says the fact that the owners are local has been crucial to the Les Bois' resurgence.
"All the people that are in this now are long-term Idahoans, long-term Boiseans," said Larry Williams, part-owner of Les Bois. "So they just have a vested interest in, not only the horses, but the people."
County commissioners are also happy with Les Bois right now, as some estimates have the park's economic impact at $32 million annually. "It's great for the economy because it brings a lot of jobs to this area, up to 300 or 400," said Ada County Commissioner Jim Tibbs.
Managers say they'll keep improving Les Bois, and say if they do, that it can be the premiere horse-racing venue in the Northwest. "I see big things happening with it," said Didericksen.
Hall says there's still a lot of work to do. He says while purses are increasing this season, they still need to get bigger, to draw in better horses, which will increase purses more, which will draw in even better horses.
The first day of the 2013 season of live racing at Les Bois Park is May 1st.