Racing Comes Roaring Back to Texas

Danny Pish grew up in a rodeo family in South Texas. “I think I was about 11 or 12 when it dawned on me the opportunities that might be there.” Pish remembers thinking about the horse industry, when he would travel to small racetracks with his family to look at rodeo horse prospects. A serious rodeo athlete until his mid-20s, in 1999 Pish decided to put his competing on the backburner and learn more about the thoroughbred industry.

“It was the perfect time,” Pish says. “The industry was healthy—people were fired up about it. There were lots of horses, lots of breeders, lots of folks interested.”

But as surrounding states like Oklahoma and Louisiana began to include supplements into their purse structure, Pish watched all that energy dissipate. There were fewer opportunities to run, fewer horses, and fewer breeders. “It really almost sucked the life out of it,” Pish remembers. “It made it about 20 percent what it once was. If every single state around you is subsidizing except the state that you’re in, that’s tough.”

Now, Pish believes he has seen the industry come full circle, “There’s a lot of excitement again, and there’s no question where it’s from.” Since the creation of the Horse Industry Escrow Account (HIEA), the heart of the horse industry has come roaring back to where it belongs: Texas. This year at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston, for instance, the thoroughbred race meet’s average daily handle saw a 28 percent increase over last year—and that’s no small feat after an already record-breaking 2020.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the industry as a whole is growing at exponential rates. The number of Texas Accredited Thoroughbreds across the state increased by more than 16 percent over this past year. “That experiment they did in Austin,” Pish says, “It was a huge success. When you look at the purse structure, when you look at trainers coming over, breeders moving here from surrounding states, it’s working.”

And it should be, he says, because after all, it is our heritage. “Even when we weren’t healthy at all,” Pish remembers, “even when we were struggling, our racing was still doing OK, ‘cause it’s horses, and ‘cause it’s Texas.”

All those years ago, a thriving Texas racing world helped Pish, who started his career living in the tack room and “didn’t even have enough money to pay rent when [he] was out of town”, pull himself up by his literal bootstraps. His success helped him buy a training facility in the small town of Cibolo, Texas, where his employees eventually bought homes too.

“It’s not just me and my success that the stable has helped.” Pish says. “It’s all the other people that have been associated with my stable—from the groomers to the vets to the subcontractors—for some of them, 100 percent of their income has come from my stable. All this came from a guy that grew up in Texas, got interested, and dove in as a trainer in a state that was rolling and healthy.”

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