Turns out last week's screed on gambling (emphasis on legal gambling in California) was incomplete. I assure you staff will be disciplined, but in the meantime, let's shout out the good news about mule racing! Yes, pilgrim, the exhilarating sport of pari-mutuel mule racing is legal in the Golden State!
I have Don Jacklin, president of the American Mule Racing Association, on the phone from his kingdom in Post Falls, Idaho. I want the where and when of mule racing.
"It started back in 1976 in Bishop, California," Jacklin says. "Bishop had non-pari-mutuel, unofficial races associated with their Mule Days celebration. That's where I got hooked. Then, legislation was passed to allow pari-mutuel betting for mule racing, but just for one year, 1979 or '80, and just one weekend, and it was restricted to Bishop.
"We took it a step further in 1980. I was able to author legislation here in Idaho for pari-mutuel betting on mules at all the fair circuit tracks. The following year we took it to Montana and got pari-mutuel betting there."
Okay with me. "How many mule races did you run in Idaho and Montana?"
"Minimum of one, and sometimes two races per day on an eight-to-ten race card of thoroughbreds and quarterhorses. The purses were very small, $200 to $600. Then, we went to Oregon, got pari-mutuel betting in Oregon. Then, we went to Nevada, got it passed at their tracks. And then we came back to California, approximately eight years ago. We approached the legislature and asked them to allow or extend their previous pari-mutuel legalization to include the entire fair circuit in California. They passed the bill.
"That was the big breakthrough," Jacklin says. "We moved from $400 to $600 purses in Montana and Idaho to California, where most of our purses average in the $5000-to-$6000 bracket, with a couple being as high as $14,000. California has been the place that everybody has gone, including myself."
Funny, it does seem like everybody has come to California. "I was surprised to learn that there are only 60 to 70 racing mules on the fair circuit here."
"Right now I've got 78 on my records who have run at least once. However, out of 78, we're down to 72 or 71 who are still racing."
Let's see, the 2006 California Fair Racing schedule is made up of seven county fairs spread from Ferndale to Pomona. Fair season runs from June to October, yet only 71 mules are racing. Seven plus 71 adds up to...financial opportunity of a lifetime! "There are racing mules for sale on the Internet for $4000. A normal person could afford to own a mule thoroughbred."
"Absolutely," Jacklin says. "Mules run more often. A quarterhorse or thoroughbred runs once every three or four weeks. Mules run once every four days. Their vet bills are a fraction of what a horse's vet bills are. Mules don't have the feed requirements that quarterhorses or thoroughbreds do. They're very affordable. Most people go into [mule] racing to have a little pizzazz. If they break even, they've had a good year, and they've had the enjoyment of owning the race animal and rooting him on."
I shall name my racing mule, "Let Your Mind Be As A Floating Cloud." "Do you train a mule differently than a horse?"
"The general principles are the same. You have a little difference in age. Mules develop a little bit slower. And by developing, I mean closing the cup on their knees. Their kneecups don't close until age three. Horses' kneecups start to close late in age two. So, we start mules a year later.
"Mules are different," Jacklin says, "because you can't push them too far. If you push them against the [training] wall, they'll reject, they'll go backwards on you. You can push a horse into a wall and he'll either fall down and hurt himself or keep on trying to go. Mules, you've got to take 'em a little slower on the training, and they certainly race differently. Jockeys use a bat [whip] on racehorses, and they can bat pretty good and get some reaction. Mules, if you start over-batting or over-sticking them, they'll honker up and slow down. There is a fine line."
Perhaps I should mention that besides being president of the AMRA, Don Jacklin is also founder of an international seed-production company, has more money than we can count, likes to hunt in Mongolia, and one of his mule champions, Taz, ran against the legendary Black Ruby at Del Mar in a $10,000 match race. Jacklin was a prime mover behind cloning the first equine by funding research at the University of Idaho. Jacklin is racing clone mules in California this year and...we'll have to come back to this next week.