Cherokees Begin Work at Blue Ribbon

Workers begin removing condemned buildings.
September 17, 2013

blue ribbon downs


The Cherokee Nation began removing the old racing office and about 13 condemned race barns Monday at Blue Ribbon Downs.

According to sources, they are cleaning up the training center and remaining eight or nine barns as well as doing major work to renovate the track surface with intentions of making it a better training facility for horsemen.

Blue Ribbon Downs started when Bill Hedge bought 102 acres just west of Sallisaw in 1960. The track soon became known as a proving ground and gained recognition from the American Quarter Horse Association in 1963. Hedge sold the track to an investment group in 1973.

In 1982, Oklahoma voters approved pari-mutuel betting and the first pari-mutuel race at Blue Ribbon Downs occurred August 30, 1984, before twelve thousand spectators in a sweltering temperature above 100 degrees. The advent of legal gambling at the track caused a local construction boom with motels, restaurants, and other businesses locating near the track.

Over time, the popularity of gambling on horse racing waned and the track struggled financially with several owners, filing bankruptcy in 1997 and again in 2002. In 2003 the Choctaw Nation bought Blue Ribbon Downs and infused it with capital. In 2005 the new owners converted it to a "racino". The track, which continued to struggle, was then purchased by the Cherokee Nation and closed permanently in 2009.