Blue Ribbon Downs and Casino

Blue Ribbon Downs is Oklahoma's oldest racing facility and first pari-mutuel race track. The track is set against the backdrop of the lush, green country of Eastern Oklahoma. Located on 165 acres bordered on the south by I-40 and on the north by Highway 64, is only 20 west of Fort Smith, Arkansas, 101 miles southeast of Tulsa, Oklahoma and 159 miles east of Oklahoma City.

Blue Ribbon Downs features Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Appaloosa and Paint horse racing. A glass-enclosed Clubhouse overlooking both the track and action-packed Saddling Paddock offers fans year round comfort.

Blue Ribbon Downs also featured over 200 gaming machines.

The facility permanently closed in 2010.

History of Blue Ribbon Downs

In 1960, cowboy and rancher Bill Hedge bought 102 acres of land near Sallisaw and named it Blue Ribbon Ranch. His training track eventually became a favorite site of match races for local horsemen. AQHA first recognized racing at Blue Ribbon Downs in 1963 and the $6,060 Blue Ribbon Futurity became the first recognized stakes race at the track two years later.

Blue Ribbon Downs became know as a proving ground and grew to be one of the most successful non pari-mutuel racetracks in the sport. World Champions Laico Bird, Easy Jet, Miss Thermolark, Gold Coast Express and See Me Do It are among some of the great horses which started their careers at Blue Ribbon Downs.

All racetrack business was conducted from the Hedge's home until they sold the track to a group of investors in 1973.

Seven years later, Ralph Shebester purchased the track and made many improvements to the property and to the racing itself. On December 3, 1983, Blue Ribbon Downs hosted the richest non pari-mutuel race in history when the purse for the Black Gold Futurity reached $1 million.

Shebester believed Oklahoma needed pari-mutuel wagering so he led the drive to raise money from Quarter Horse racing interests to finance lobbying efforts. The efforts paid off, but then only weeks before Blue Ribbon Downs was set to begin pari-mutuel racing, the grandstand burned to the ground. Through extraordinary teamwork, the grandstand was rebuilt and in August 1984 Blue Ribbon Downs opened for the only pari-mutuel horse racing in Oklahoma, Texas or Kansas.

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 Cherokee Nation bought Blue Ribbon Downs and infused it with capital. In 2005 the new owners converted it to a "racino," a combination horse racetrack and casino. The track continued to struggle, and closed permanently in 2010.

Place a bet on your favorite horse or play your favorite casino game now.