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Racing chairman pledges to stop fund practice

BISMARCK -- The new chairman of the North Dakota Racing Commission pledged to legislators Tuesday that the commission will quit using its breeders' fund money to supplement purses at live racing.

BISMARCK -- The new chairman of the North Dakota Racing Commission pledged to legislators Tuesday that the commission will quit using its breeders' fund money to supplement purses at live racing.

Legislators tried to outlaw the practice in 2007, but the commission again voted this past February, on the advice of their attorney, to take $125,000 out of its breeders' fund to supplement purses for Belcourt, N.D., and Fargo races that are reserved for North Dakota-bred horses. The action is one reason some legislators have proposed abolishing the commission.

H. Patrick Weir Sr., Medora, N.D., told legislators that while he voted in February to take money out of the breeders' fund for purses because he felt it was legal and appropriate, he's changed his mind because "it becomes more and more clear that wasn't the (bill) sponsor's intent."

He was speaking to the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee, which heard a state auditor's report Tuesday on the commission.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, N.D., said later that she was "just thrilled with" Weir's pledge. "That's a wonderful step," she said.

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Saving horse racing

Weir also said in an interview Tuesday that the commission has to take aggressive steps to save horse racing in the state, including seeking more support for the tracks from the cities of Belcourt and Fargo. The commission's funds, once flush with tax proceeds from hundreds of millions of dollars in pari-mutuel wagering at simulcast sites, are becoming depleted because the big bettors left. A state audit manager told legislators there are enough Racing Commission funds to sponsor racing at the current level of support only through 2009.

The auditors had been asked to settle the question whether the commission legally could take money for purses from the breeders' fund, but they told legislators they were unable to determine that. They said it will take an attorney general's opinion.

Weir also said he wants to heal longtime rifts between the commission and horsemen.

"I don't want there to be any more complaints that someone's voice or input wasn't listened to," he said.

Weir has been on the commission for a year. Gov. John Hoeven appointed him chairman this month. The chairman for the past year, Mandan, N.D., veterinarian Jim Clement, now is off the commission because his term expired.

Hoeven also appointed a new member to the commission, Winston Satran, Bismarck, who more than 20 years ago was the State Penitentiary warden and who is a former administrator of the Home on the Range group foster home near Sentinel Butte, N.D. He served 10 years on the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and was a vice president of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.

Weir said Satran raises horses.

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Cole writes for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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