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Jack Darling's Blog


Despite Delays, Positive Efforts In Ontario

Published: December 21, 2015 9:16 am ET

Last Comment: December 25, 2015 6:22 am ET | 17 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

It has been very frustrating for most of us waiting for the OLG to come up with a plan for their integration with horse racing. I remember back when Kathleen Wynne instructed the OLG to start this process, I was talking to an insider about this integration and telling him that I thought it was important for our industry that the OLG move quickly on it. He said "Jack, this will take much longer than you want. These government bureaucrats know how the system works and will drag it out as long as they can."

Unfortunately, It looks like he was right.

Meanwhile, as we are waiting, there are a couple of positive efforts being made by some players from within our industry itself that are encouraging.

The first one is a proposal by a group of horse people led by Mark Horner, Scott McNiven, Heather Toll and Mark Beaven that would raise purses at certain tracks and make it economically viable to race horses at these tracks. The complete proposal can be seen at this link.

This is a well-written, well thought-out and very thorough document that took much effort and this group deserves a lot of credit for doing it.

We have to deal with the position we have been put in by the cancellation of our slots deal. Trying to survive by racing for purses that are too small just doesn't work. Expenses are too high and even more people will be driven out of the business. This plan shuffles the money around so that when you do ship a horse in to race, it makes economic sense. Naturally, not everyone will agree 100 percent with it but I believe it is best for Ont. racing as a whole. It is this kind of common sense thinking that we need for ourselves and when we are dealing with the government.

The second and most exciting thing for me is the possibility of racing at Mohawk year round. I know there are some who are concerned about losing the Toronto market and I respect their opinions very much. The argument that we should have at least some racing there has merit but I would like to give my thoughts on the issue here.

First of all, I can remember when harness racing first came to Woodbine I thought it would be the greatest thing for us. I was wrong. Woodbine is a fantastic facility for thoroughbred racing but it is a terrible setup for live harness racing, especially for attracting fans and customers in the winter. I won't go into all the reasons why, as they have been discussed fairly thoroughly on this site and are well known to most in the industry. I would rather talk about the positives of racing at Mohawk and what I envision for the future.

Of course for all this to happen, WEG has made it clear that they need a long-term deal with OLG to keep the casino on the Mohawk property. I just can't understand what the holdup is, especially when OLG and horse racing are to be integrated. Mohawk is a tremendous property, is a great location with easy access and the local government wants it so it should be a no-brainer. If and when this happens, WEG is planning on spending millions to winterize and improve the Mohawk facility. Betting and watching races from home is a great thing but I strongly believe that to gain new fans, the tracks have to do all they can to attract people to the live racing. This is why I am so excited about this whole thing. WEG has a chance now to turn Mohawk into a state of the art harness racing facility. Mohawk Racetrack is surrounded by a huge population that want to be entertained. WEG can go after them by providing great restaurants, nice patios, etc. where people can sit and have a drink and enjoy the races up close where the excitement is. The quality of the food and reasonable prices is of course the key to making this all work. A horsepersons' lounge has been discussed and would be a great idea. Owners are harness racing's best customers so giving them the incentive to come to the track and have a comfortable place that they can go to have a drink, something to eat, place some bets and mingle with other horsepeople would be a good thing. A better sound system throughout the grandstand, inside and out is a must to enhance the live racing experience. The paddock is close enough that WEG can explore ways to let the fans have more interaction with the horses. There is even talk about expanding the track to a full mile which would produce better racing. Mohawk is where most horsepeople want to race and the majority of horses are stabled in that general area so with the ease of shipping there and the cost savings, it should help the horse population and help with fuller fields. With good promotion, the betting should follow and give us a nice on-track handle.

The possibilities seem endless and I'm sure there are lots of good ideas out there. I just hope that if this does all materialize, WEG will go all out in its efforts to make Mohawk the place to be. I feel confident that they will. It would be a great shot in the arm for harness racing.

The views presented in Trot Blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Standardbred Canada.

December 25, 2015 - 6:22 amAfter all this time, I now

jim rigg SAID...

After all this time, I now believe the answer to help making Horse racing self sustainable in Ontario lies with arranging some suitable agreement between WEG and some of the other race tracks. We know WEG is the most successful track in Ontario and perhaps with their expertise they may be able to bring back incentives to the Horse Racing Industry.

December 23, 2015 - 6:32 pmMr Bain You are involved with

Ted Decker SAID...

Mr Bain
You are involved with a group that said there would be a new state of the art racetrack built in Lakeshore. What is the status of that facility? You also were and are involved with Leamington racing which is a losing proposition every race card. The handle is not near the purses. The proposal to eliminate 3 current tracks, Leamington included makes perfect business sense. I would add a couple more tracks to that list. In order for your industry to survive, and I doubt it can it will have to become self sustaining in a hurry. Look at the article today about the upcoming new events happening at Woodbine in 2016. How much revenue will this generate for horsemen? If racing in Ontario wants any chance of survival the powers to be (or not) need to get there heads out of the sand and come up with a plan that does not include the OLG.

December 23, 2015 - 2:17 pmI couldn't agree with you

Tom Bain SAID...

I couldn't agree with you more Theresa. The proposal will kill harness racing in southwestern Ontario
Of the five original stables at the barn where I am stabled I am the only one left. Talk about caring for your fellow horse person.
This proposal will only make a few rich at the expense of the little guy. Talk about throwing us to the wolves.
Greed can bring about catastrophic results. All this without really knowing final government funding.
Many have worked so hard to save jobs in the industry giving of not only their time and talents but their dollars
Now to have it erased by such an erroneous proposal makes me question our levels of caring.

December 23, 2015 - 2:04 pmDefinition of integration, to

John Hill SAID...

Definition of integration, to combine (two or more things) to form or create something. To make (something) part of another larger thing. To make (a person or group) part of a larger group or organization. Looks to me like OLG has integrated the racing industry as promised. Remember OLG is the competion, do you think McDonald's would help Burger King, Sears help the Bay ? Well neither will OLG truly help the racing industry as they try to save face.

December 22, 2015 - 8:17 pmVery well stated Mike!

Chuck Ibey SAID...

Very well stated Mike! Owners can pay huge $ for yearlings & often find a necessity to get them started at tracks like Kawartha & Georgian. More days & better $purses are essential for keeping owners & horsemen close to those tracks in the business. Often these horsemen after starting young ones head to Woodbine/Mohawk.
I personally feel that every track in Ontario should be involved in simulcast product.

J Chuck Ibey

December 22, 2015 - 5:52 pmThe issues in this industry

The issues in this industry is there is no vision. Tracks are stuck 40 years behind the time. Facilities need to be updated. One only needs to visit all the tracks in Ontario with the exception of WEG tracks and maybe Grand River to see this.

Leadership in this industry is abysmal at best. You can sit here and tell me about this group and that group but basically what it really amounts to is there is no leadership.

When will this industry learn that the OLG is out for themselves?
When will this industry learn that the majority of track owners are out for themselves?
When will this industry come to the realization that they need to try and fix their own product and not rely on Government?

It starts with producing a good product.
Todays product is not good enough

It starts with a plan.
Today there is no plan.

Tomorrow will there be a plan?
You should hope so but do not hold your breath.

December 22, 2015 - 12:26 pmMr Strasbourgh Who is going

Ted Decker SAID...

Mr Strasbourgh

Who is going to force tracks to have racing in order to keep the slots? The government? I highly doubt that, as neither the government or some track owners care one bit if there is racing or not. I don't see why after over 3 years and the government/track owners doing nothing to integrate back into horse racing that no one sees the writing on the wall. SARs is gone forever and there will be not be any slot revenue going towards racing like in the past.

December 22, 2015 - 11:03 amIt is clear that harness folk

Will Yamakva SAID...

It is clear that harness folk are not willing to take a lesson out of the book the runners created.

Let's take a look at what they did, and compare it.

1) The runners went from a 5 day week, to 4 days. Here, people are talking about more dates means owners can try win back their costs. Im befuddled how the harness folks have not realized that with a gazillion simulcasting options out there, the more you race, does not mean the more people will bet on your product.

2) Fewer races per card. About a decade ago, there used to be 10 races Thursday and Friday and ten to twelve on weekends. Always been 8 races on wednesdays. Harness people have these ridiculous 15 race cards. (London seems to have it right with the 10 they race most nights). This created bigger fields and more competitive fields, and the gamblers paid attention, and look at where Woodbine and Fort Erie are now.

To think that this entire industry will be saved, is insanity. Too many tracks racing for handouts because they cant afford to survive on their own. The proposal that was linked to in this story, is kinda interesting in that it gets rid of 3 tracks. Sadly, I do not think that is enough. I would toss 2 more tracks on there as well.

Any track that has a handle UNDER the amount given away in purses, should be closed.


As far as full time at Mohawk? That would be the end of the sport if they did that. Why? 1) a second turf course at Woodbine would mean even more betting dollars going their way as turf racing is really bringing in the bread. 2) the biggest city in Canada would have to pass many more entertainment, betting, sporting events to get to Campbellville.

Who is the target market for Mohawk? Torontonians? They are not going to make the trek to fill the stands on any night other than big events.

Looking at the clientele of Woodbine, you can see by the packed busses on race weekends, and by the amount of walk up traffic from the surrounding area, that not everyone wants to drive to the track. Combine public transportation, with the ability to do things after the races are over at Woodbine, its a ridiculous though t to honestly think Torontonians are going to go to Mohawk if it is winterized or expanded.

lastly.... This statement could not be more wrong.

"finally someone who understand the true impact of increasing purses at B tracks....increase in owners= increase in fans=increase in handle."

Pre-slots, purses were terrible, slots jacked up the purses a ton, now the stands are empty most nights, the handle is down at most tracks, and no one except horseman really cares about horses, even when people go to the track to play the slots.

Take a look at Monmouth, a few years ago, they gave away nearly a million a day in purses, and handle did not go up. I do not get how anyone can think that a NW5000L racing for $8k instead of $3500 (hypothetical numbers) will draw more fans.

increase of purses has NEVER made anyone make a bet at a track they were not already going to play.

December 22, 2015 - 7:27 amI don't know of any Business,

I don't know of any Business, and I have several myself, that starts with the request that the customer or government give them more. Sadly Mr. Decker and Mr. Irving are spot on in my view. When will OHRIA or any other racing representatives start there proposals with "here is what we are doing for the customers"?

December 21, 2015 - 7:19 pmMr. Decker, I understand and

Mr. Decker,

I understand and respect your opinion. The partnership between our industry and the government should force the tracks to accept so many race dates or get out of the business (no dates=no slots).

Mr. Timpano is absolutely right!! the dates, the grassroot gets should be cancelled and given to Georgian Downs so a 5/8 track is available for horses that can not race on a half and not good enough to race at the big track. Why would the track owners be in the slots business while not willing to take racing dates....Your in or your out...period!!!Same with the owner at Rideau Carleton...your in or out!!That's another 5/8 track for B horses.

Mrs. Stokes, with all due respect, we are looking for what is best for our sports and not for every individual. We all have to move for our job or make decision that doesn't please us at 100%. A lot of workers need to move cities, provinces or even countries to keep their jobs. Its not about anyone, it's about our sports. This is why it is so difficult for the different stakeholders to make decisions...Everyone thinks about their own situation.

Time for!!!! We have an opportunity to re-model our game since the cancelling of SAR program that we all took for granted and a lot of track owners took advantage of. Let's do what is right for our industry to make sure it is part of the future. No negatives for what happened before...lets look ahead and make the necessary changes.

December 21, 2015 - 4:29 pmThere is absolutely no doubt

There is absolutely no doubt that the purse structures at any venues, aside from the OJC tracks, needs to be revamped and recalculated. The associated costs to owners to race for a losing pot of bronze is well detailed by this group. It is very factual and simple mathematics.
Every horse owner and trainer will have biased opinions with regards to racing venues with regards to geography. However, the truth of the matter is that half mile racing is definitely a detriment to horses' longevity and many owners who can afford to not race on half mile surfaces simply won't and don't simply for a soundness issue for their horses.
We are in the midst of the 2 smallest crops of horses ever foaled and we will have a bigger horse shortage in the next few years to come especially if more races are moved over to the half mile tracks
Racetracks like Georgian and Kawartha are the ones that need more race dates. Bigger tracks provide better competitive finishes, bigger fields and most importantly a sounder horse long term. Georgian Downs and Kawartha Downs would be the tracks needed to get increased race dates should Mohawk ever become the full time OJC track. This current proposal would basically destroy horse population east of Mohawk. Georgian and Kawartha would have plenty of horses stabled near them if they had more race dates. I can't imagine an owner or trainer that wouldn't rather race at a facility like Georgian over any other half mile track.
All stake races should be at larger and more central racetracks. Take the same field of 10 Grassroots races at a B track and race them at the OJC and you will handle a million + versus $25,000 or less. Owners who invest a lot of money on young horses shouldn't be asked to race that caliber of horse at those small part time B tracks. I have heard drivers tell me they won't take their race bikes to those bad half mile tracks, so why are we owners asked to race our expensive or even semi-expensive racehorses on those part time bull rings, especially a good stake horse who will be the most likely candidate to help fill A track cards in the future?
There should be a push or a way to race at Woodbine and/or Mohawk 7 days of the week. The public will always bet more money at those venues regardless of class of horses, owners will be happier and the horses will also stay much sounder. Mohawk year round sounds like a great idea, but so does continued racing at Woodbine and more race dates at tracks with less turns and longer stretches. We need to protect our product and investment, and that's the athlete/horse.

December 21, 2015 - 3:25 pmWell I agree it is well

Well I agree it is well written and I agree with most of it. I already drive two hours to most tracks, I am not willing to drive 3.5 hours to London and not all of us have weg horses so basically I will lose my owners. I thought the idea was to get more owners and more customers... I think we need to sit with the tracks we have, and come up with a solution that way. Stop eliminating what we have already.

December 21, 2015 - 2:11 pmMr Strasbourg Your incentive

Ted Decker SAID...

Mr Strasbourg
Your incentive ideas have been proposed many times and yet nothing for the punters. The OLG and many racetrack owners care nothing about horse racing and only want to be a partner in slots and casinos. If this wasn't true many of the incentives would already be a reality. Just like dog racing in Florida. The track owners want racing gone and would love to open more poker rooms and add slots. There opposition to this is the Seminoles who have a monopoly on the Casinos in the state and don't want any competition. The industry needs to accept the fact that the OLG and some tracks don't want to be partners with horse racing any longer.

December 21, 2015 - 12:36 pmVery well written....finally

Very well written....finally someone who understand the true impact of increasing purses at B tracks....increase in owners= increase in fans=increase in handle.

The only thing I would change, I would cancel all grassroots event. Other than a few horsemen, no one wants to see or bet on those races. Take that money and increase the number of days at flam (race in summer).

Now if we could have more incentive for the bettors, we would be great shape. Reduce the % of taxes and give them more accessibility to our game, vouchers for dining room discounts and cash back (just like a credit card that gives you points for betting).

The change from Woodbine to Mohawk would be great for our sports...who wants to go see races live when the horses are half a mile from the grandstand?????

Mr. Irving,, we are already set up online, and getting lots of handle for those sites. Imagine if we could get the sports event added to those sites. The one stop shop would be another incentive and a win-win for all. Betting at all casinos (teletheatre) would also increase our handle and make it more attractive to our bettors.

I would also suggest that we have different races (longer and shorter to make it more fun for the bettors (geeez on football you can even bet on the coin toss).

Very refreshing to see this post....Finally!!!

Kudos to the authors....and thank you for your work!

Michel Strasbourg.

December 21, 2015 - 11:28 amJack has absolutely nailed

Jack has absolutely nailed it. Mohawk year run is a win-win-wynne situation. One hope I have with 'merger' with OLG is that there is a betting teletheatre in every casino in Ontario. What better place to introduce 'betters' to another form of wagering.

December 21, 2015 - 11:28 amTaking away most of the

Ted Decker SAID...

Taking away most of the Toronto market to race full time at Mohawk can be debated.
Adding to the current slots at Mohawk will do little to add to the handle as most slot players are not interested in horse racing. Trying to convince WEG to add lounges and resturaunts etc for racing will be difficult as I doubt they see the same vision as you,Jack.

The proposal of the horse peoples group is logical and certainly a start at a self sustaining business. They must be commended for their efforts but one must wonder why this information is being presented by a particular group and not by OHRIA. What exactly is the horsemen's representation doing to protect Ontario racing?

December 21, 2015 - 11:13 amWhat CHUTZPAH! Your industry


Your industry didn't do a thing for 15 years while collecting slot funds.Now you want OLG to change your mess in a couple of years!!

Ask the 75 million North American fantasy sports players if they have any intention of going to a sports arena where they are handicapping their picks!The FUTURE IS ONLINE.

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