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Legal, unlicensed horse racing raises concerns in Colorado

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FORT LUPTON, Colo. — Before the horse races began at Rancho El Caporal, people gathered around a man holding a jug full of rocks and a boot. The jug was to get their attention. The boot was to hold their bets.

It was a warm April day in Fort Lupton, where thousands descended to watch horses race.

With more than a dozen armed security guards, portable toilets, food trucks, an ambulance and plenty of parking, and with the blessing of Weld County commissioners, the annual event felt like many others. It could pass for a concert at the Greeley Stampede.

“The county is happy, the cops are happy, everybody is happy,” said Martin Gutierrez, who owns Rancho El Caporal.

Gutierrez had a permit for the two-day event, just as he’s had each of the past six years.

But after race organizers provide the necessary documents to get a permit, there’s little to no oversight, both from local law enforcement or state officials, something insiders and advocates say paves the way for illegal gambling, mistreatment of horses and a potentially unsafe environment for spectators.

“I have sources who have been dealing with legal horse races,” said Floss Blackburn, of Denkai Animal Sanctuary. “They pump (horses) so full of drugs they’re having heart attacks. They’re a tool; they’re a way for these guys to make money, which is not fair to the animal.”

The only licensed racetrack in Colorado is Arapahoe Park in Aurora. That track is licensed for pari-mutuel betting. It’s also monitored to ensure animal and spectator safety.

Racing horses, though, is perfectly legal all over the state.

Gutierrez knows the rules. In a phone conversation that ended prematurely when he hung up, Gutierrez said there’s no organized betting.

“It’s match races. You can bet through a friend,” Gutierrez said. “We don’t take any commission.”

If he did, it would be illegal gambling. And that’s hard to prove, Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams said. Reams’ easiest recourse against horse races is when the organizers fail to take the basic step of getting an assembly permit from the county.

Gutierrez was in that camp in 2010. He was cited for hosting illegal rodeos and horse races with hundreds in attendance, according to county documents.

Horse races go on throughout the state, Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said. Fox31 Denver, in an investigation concurrent with The Tribune’s, uncovered similar races in Deer Trail. There, Mayor Kent Vashus is also the registered agent of the Deer Trail Jockey Club, which owns the rodeo grounds where unsanctioned races were held on Easter weekend.

After being questioned about the races, Vashus told Fox31 on video the races wouldn’t be coming back to Deer Trail.

Kirkmeyer said if Weld officials discovered problems with an event they permitted, whether horse racing or any other, they could use that information in future permitting decisions. To date, they’ve had no complaints about Rancho El Caporal.

“We’re obviously aware when there’s a big assembly like that, the propensity for other things to come along is there,” Reams said. “If we have substantial information that something is going on, we’ll look for enforcement. But we can’t just embed someone in all of those and look for crime to occur.”

There are many, smaller races that happen more often, without permits, and with far fewer people. Evidence is available online, where match races are documented and promoted throughout Colorado. Many wouldn’t require a permit because there aren’t enough people attending to trigger the need for a temporary assembly permit.

Because horse racing is legal, and any potential illegal activity would likely be kept off social media, breaking up illegal activity is harder than it looks.

If the house gets a cut, that’s organized, illegal gambling, but without a paper trail, the cash exchange is nearly impossible to track.

County commissioners, who have approved permits for Gutierrez each of the past six years, say the county has a thorough process for handing them out. That process includes comments and recommendations from a variety of departments, including the sheriff.

Reams said deputies have visited the Gutierrez site before and haven’t had issues.

State racing officials, including the enforcement division of the Colorado Department of Revenue, which oversees horse racing, only regulates licensed racing and betting. That includes Arapahoe Park and a handful of off-track betting sites — mostly bars.

“Our authority kind of ends with the licensed industry. State and local law enforcement takes over when there’s a potential of illegal activities,” Ron Kammerzell, director of enforcement for the Colorado Department of Revenue, told Fox31 Denver.

One way or another, there are those who would like to see more oversight of the non-licensed racetracks. Bruce Connally, a veterinarian in Wyoming who serves Colorado Horse Rescue in Longmont, said the licensed venue at Arapahoe has the oversight in place to ensure the proper care of horses. And he says it’s a big difference from what goes on at unregulated tracks.

“It’s not even close,” he said.

Connally has worked with what he calls match-race horses before but never during races.

Although Connally said he’s heard about everything from caffeine to heroin being injected into horses, most of the racing horses he has worked with are healthy. It makes sense, Connally said, as a lame horse isn’t a fast horse.

“Most are right on the edge of being thin,” Connally said. “But Derby horses are quite thin as well. The rest of what I see is mostly these horses are well taken care of.”

Still, Connally said the lack of oversight during these racing events, including a lack of drug testing, makes for a dangerous environment.

“The whole big deal about drug testing, to me, is one, it’s dangerous to the horse, two, dangerous or life-threatening to the jockey, and also, for anybody betting, it’s illegal manipulation of the bets,” Connally said. “I’ve seen horses ran blind, tore themselves up because of illicit drugs. That’s why all of our big races (from Arapahoe to the Kentucky Derby) have such rigid drug testing rules. People are bad, and they want to make a horse run faster than they can for all sorts of reasons.”

The horses at Rancho El Caporal races in Fort Lupton, Gutierrez said, were getting ready for Arapahoe, hence the professional riders, finish line photographer and post-race pictures with owners on the track — all with families enjoying the atmosphere. The veterinarian on site, Michael Scott, runs North Denver Animal Clinic with his wife, Lori Scott, who is a member of the Colorado Horse Racing Commission. Neither returned multiple calls seeking comment.

When The Tribune pulled into the Fort Lupton event, people at the gate handed out magazines and took money — cash only. But they offered a silver lining: “If you bet, you can make it all back,” one said.

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Expect more bigger, more damaging hail storms as they hit areas with growing populations

limate change will make the atmosphere more moist, but the effect that will have on hailstones isn’t clear experts aren’t clear.

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BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Hailstorms inflict billions of dollars in damage yearly in North America alone, and the cost will rise as the growing population builds more homes, offices and factories, climate and weather experts said Tuesday.

The role of climate change in hailstorms is harder to assess, the experts said at a conference at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Climate change will likely make large hailstorms worse, but population growth is more of a certainty, said Andreas Prein, a climate modeling scientist at the atmospheric research center.

“We know pretty certain that we will have more people in the future, and they will have more stuff, and this stuff can be damaged,” Prein said. “I think this component is more certain than what we can say about climate change at the moment.”

This year is expected to be the 11th in a row in which the damage from severe storms exceeds $10 billion in the United States, and 70 percent of that cost comes from hail, said Ian Giammanco, a research meteorologist for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

“It’s such a huge driver of the dollar loss each year,” he said.

Costs are rising in the U.S. because homes are getting bigger, from about 1,700 square feet (139 square meters) in the early 1980s to 2,500 square feet (232 square meters) in 2015, he said. New subdivisions also pack homes in more tightly, Giammanco said.

“So it’s a bigger target for hailstorms to hit,” he said.

The effects of climate change on hail and the resulting damage are harder to calculate because hailstorms require distinct ingredients, and global warming affects them in different ways, Prein said.

To form, hailstorms require moisture, an updraft, variable winds and freezing temperatures at lower levels of the storm cloud, he said.

Updrafts lift water droplets into the clouds, where they attract other droplets and freeze together, scientists say. Winds of varying speed and direction keep the droplets suspended in the cloud long enough to grow into hailstones. When they eventually fall, freezing temperatures in the cloud keep them from melting before they hit warmer air closer to the ground.

Climate change will likely increase updrafts, helping hailstones form, Prein said.

But it will inhibit two hail-producing conditions, he said. Warmer temperatures will expand higher into the atmosphere, so falling hailstones have more time to melt before hitting the ground. And differences in wind speed and direction will subside, he said.

Climate change will make the atmosphere more moist, but the effect that will have on hailstones isn’t clear, he said.

Kristen Rasmussen, an assistant professor at Colorado State University, said the combined effects of climate change will probably inhibit the number of weaker storms but increase the number of severe ones.

“So we actually think that’s why we’re seeing a decrease in the number of weak to moderate storms and an increase in the most severe storms,” she said. “If those storms are able to break through this inhibition, they … have the potential to be more severe, and they can tap into more energy when they do so.”

The researchers said they need more data to understand the relationship between climate change and hailstorms. Improved science could also help predict hailstorms and calculate risks better, they said.

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Andes in South America and the Himalayas all have conditions that make them hotspots for hail, Rasmussen said.

A May 2017 hailstorm in the Denver area caused $2.3 billion in insurance losses. Last week, hail injured 14 people in Colorado Springs and killed at least five animals at the city zoo. Damage estimates were still being compiled.

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Colorado voters will decide on $1.6 billion tax increase for education

A $1.6 billion initiative to benefit Colorado schools, paid for by higher taxes on corporations and wealthier individuals, will appear on the ballot this November.

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A $1.6 billion initiative to benefit Colorado schools, paid for by higher taxes on corporations and wealthier individuals, will appear on the ballot this November.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office said on Thursday that supporters of the measure had more than met the signature requirements.

Supporters of the effort, dubbed Great Schools, Thriving Communities, turned in 179,390 signatures last month, of which 130,022 were deemed valid. They needed just 98,492 valid signatures to get on the ballot. Under more stringent requirements adopted by voters in 2016, those signatures also needed to represent 2 percent of the registered voters in every state Senate district.

Initiative 93 represents the third attempt in seven years to raise money for education. Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires that voters approve any tax increase, and voters have twice before rejected statewide school funding measures by wide margins, most recently in 2013. To pass, Initiative 93 would need approval from 55 percent of voters.

The measure could share the ballot with a major tax increase for transportation, as well as a measure that would require the state to spend more on roads without raising taxes.

In addition to raising taxes for schools, Initiative 93 would fully fund all-day kindergarten and increase funding for preschool and for students with particular needs, such as those learning English and those who have disabilities. School districts would have broad discretion, though, about how to spend the new revenue.

Conservative critics of the measure say that’s one problem with it. In their view, it amounts to putting a lot more money into a system that has not significantly improved student achievement, without clear mechanisms to change that.

“The research is clear that simply adding more money to the same system will not lead to increased student achievement,” the conservative education reform advocacy group Ready Colorado said in an email to members. “Funding increases should be tied to policies that will improve educational outcomes.”

The group also criticized the measure for introducing a tiered tax system to replace Colorado’s flat income tax. That’s one key difference between this attempt and Amendment 66 in 2013. The last effort would have raised taxes on everyone, while this tax increase would affect those earning more than $150,000.

In contrast, the Colorado Children’s Campaign quickly issued a statement in support of the measure, calling it a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an education financing system that is more adequate, modern, equitable, and sustainable. This is the first step in removing structural barriers to opportunity and ensuring every chance for every child to succeed.”

Colorado ranks 28th among states in per-pupil spending, when all state, local, and federal dollars are combined, according to the most recent ranking from the National Education Association. However, school funding varies considerably around the state, and half of Colorado school districts, most of them in rural areas, operate on a four-day week because they can’t afford to be open five days.

Since the Great Recession, state lawmakers have held back $7.5 billion in money that would have otherwise gone to schools under a formula in the state constitution. The 2018-19 state budget included a 6.95 percent increase for K-12 education, but those who want to see more money for schools say it doesn’t begin to address years of underfunding.

Earlier this summer, Denver-based pollster Floyd Ciruli told Chalkbeat that statewide tax increases remain a tough sell in Colorado, but the prominence of education in the contentious Democratic primary for governor may have “primed” the electorate on this issue.

Some school districts are already talking about how they’ll spend the money. Denver Public Schools, which is currently engaged in negotiations with its teachers union, announced Thursday that it would put $36 million toward teacher pay if the tax increase passes, including raising starting pay and offering larger incentives to teachers who work in more challenging schools. The 2,300-student Sterling district on Colorado’s Eastern Plains also met recently with its teachers to discuss how to spend an estimated $3.7 million that district would get from the tax increase.

This isn’t just wishful thinking: It’s also part of marketing the tax increase to the public.

The tax measure calls for:

  • Raising the corporate income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 6 percent.
  • Raising the personal income tax rate from a flat 4.63 percent to between 5 percent and 8.25 percent for people earning more than $150,000. The highest tax rate would be paid by people earning $500,000 or more.
  • Setting the residential property assessment rate at 7 percent of market value for schools. That’s lower than it is now but higher than it is predicted to be in 2019 because current law has the unintended effect of gradually reducing the residential assessment rate.
  • Setting the non-residential property assessment rate at 24 percent of market value, less than the current 29 percent.

According to an initial fiscal analysis by the state, the average taxpayer earning more than $150,000 would pay an additional $519 a year, while those earning less would be unaffected. The average corporate taxpayer would pay an additional $11,085 a year. The change in property taxes would vary considerably around the state, but based on the average statewide school levy, many property owners would pay $28 more on each $100,000 of market value in 2019 than they otherwise would. Commercial property owners will see a decrease.

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Girls who rock, a wilderness program is teaching girls science in Colorado’s wilderness

Girls on Rock is a free 12-day education program designed to encourage women and people of color to get into field sciences and teach them wilderness skills.

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The leg-busting path shot straight up, encountering small aspens before veering hard right at the base of a sheer rock. The conversations of teenage girls broke through the foliage, covering the soft rumble of cars passing below on Interstate 70 just near Frisco.

Nine girls — and five female instructors — were gathered around four ropes. It was Monday, July 23, one of the first days of Girls on Rock, a free 12-day education program designed to encourage women and people of color to get into field sciences and teach them wilderness skills. It’s part of Inspiring Girls Expeditions, a program based in Alaska.

Everyone took turns scaling the rockface, encouraged by shouts of “You got it” and “Got you.” One rightfully noted, “The ants make it look so easy.”

After climbing, the girls took a hike and stopped for a lesson on how to interpret maps and figure their location using nothing but string and their current elevation.

“I feel like Dora the Explorer with her map and her backpack,” Aiyana Austin joked.

This first program has been years in the making. It just wrapped up earlier this month. But if the financial situation stays as it is now, Girls on Rock’s future is on shaky ground.

The teens said there were a variety of reasons they wanted to participate in the program: Meet new people, engage in science during the summer break and conquer fears. They were shocked by how quickly they became friends as they learned how to trust themselves and others.

The girls were all smart and inclined toward science. They applied to participate — applicants write essays but the program doesn’t look at their grades. Instead of girls needing to meet certain criteria, instructors looked for those who would join to create the strongest team.

There’s Miauaxochitl “Mia” Haskie, 16, from New Mexico, who is aiming to get into MIT. There’s fellow New Mexican Aiyana Austin, also 16, who took AP musical theory just so she could be at the top of her class.

There were teens from large cities, like Denver’s Guadalupe “Lupita” Ramirez, and others from small towns, such as 16-year-old Chloe Crocker from Fredericksburg, Texas, who said the only fun thing to do in the tourist town is go to the bowling alley or movie theater — and the bowling alley is about to close.

Some were experienced with the outdoors, such as 17-year-old Taliyah Emory-Muhammad from Maryland, who climbs as a sport during the school year.

But there were also girls like 18-year-old Jessi Figard, from North Carolina, who said she’s never hiked before. Her mother has a physical disability called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome — which Jessi shares — that prevents her from going on camping trips.

“I’ve never been so dirty,” Jessi remarked. “This is the longest I’ve been without showering. It’s refreshing.”

Evelyn Cheng, an ecologist, and Megan Blanchard, a chemical ecologist, have been working to create the program since 2014. At the time, Cheng was finishing a master’s degree at the University of Colorado Boulder while Blanchard was — and still is — pursuing a doctorate.

After crowdsourcing, grant writing and extensive collaboration with companies to wrangle free gear, the program finally came together with a $17,500 Force of Nature grant from REI. The program is run out of CU Boulder.

But the funding process was too extensive for the Girls on Rock instructors — Blanchard, Cheng and three others — to keep up. The instructors who were also working on Ph.D.’s lost too much time. Additionally, Cheng had to take months off of work to finalize the program.

But they want the program to continue in Colorado. So the group is looking for other funding sources, including a corporate sponsor.

Blanchard said that she herself has been given many opportunities in life and wanted to share that with others.

It went deeper for Cheng. As she talked about this program and why it mattered, she began to tear up.

“This is the one thing I’ve ever stuck with in my life because I believe in it so much,” she said. “If I had had something like this when I was young, this would’ve been.my path would’ve been super different.”

Both science and climbing are male-dominated fields that can cause female self-doubt, which Cheng says she’s still trying to work through at 36.

“If I had something like this early on, I would’ve tried so many more things, questioned so much,” she said.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

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