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Kyle Burton's Blog


Doomsday Around the Corner for Harness Racing in Nova Scotia?

Published: December 26, 2010 1:40 pm ET

Last Comment: January 2, 2011 9:21 am ET | 19 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

I’m not usually one known to bare bad news, but what I’m about to say today needs to be heard immediately and we need to act TODAY.

Harness Racing in Nova Scotia is on its way out and if something isn’t done NOW, we’ll be finished forever. My apologies for being so blunt, but there’s nothing closer to the truth than that.

The writing is on the wall – take a glance the next time you walk by.

Take a second and look at our industry stats, for instance. Breeding numbers compiled by Standardbred Canada show that in 2007, 243 mares were bred in Nova Scotia. In 2010, that number barely squeaked past 90 – a 62% drop in just three years.

Of those 91 mares, using a rough estimate, only 80% of those will deliver a live foal. That leaves 72 mares. Factor in that 40% will not make the races as two year olds and suddenly you’re left will only 43 ‘Bred in Nova Scotia’ foals. Allot another 40% to those not good enough to race in stake events and you’re left with 25 two year olds – at the most.

In two years time, there will be 62% less Nova Scotia breds, maybe even more considering these are conservative estimates. Go ahead; wrap your head around that.

What’s even more frightening is why hasn’t anything been done about this? I’m certainly no expert, but wouldn’t such a drastic drop in one of our most fundamental forecast models warrant enough cause for an emergency measure into finding a new strategy for our provincial breeding industry? I certainly hope it would.

The drastic downward spiral continues onward to our provinces largest track, Truro Raceway, as well. Two months ago at a horse owners association meeting it was decided that racing at the oval would have to be reduced – again, by a huge number. For a track that advertises itself as a facility that “operates year-round, and offers live harness racing every Sunday”, it’s disturbing that it must reduce live cards by 21%-28% (or 11 to 15 race dates) to remain operational.

Racing ended on December 19th, 2010 and will return the first Sunday in March if sufficient funds have been saved for the “in-debt” purse pool account. Every week without live racing equals money profited via income from simulcast wagering and if enough isn’t saved by the first of March, another month of no racing will be tacked onto the already reduced schedule. A plan was not presented to combat what happens if the account is not in the black by April.

With the exception to Cape Breton (they are doing awesome!), the people involved in Harness Racing in Nova Scotia need to come together, form a strategic plan and provide a new direction to our decaying industry. It’s nearing collapse – whether you want to admit or not.

Anything I can do to help turn this ship around, I’ll do. If you’re game, I’d hope you would too.

Happy Holidays and best wishes in the New Year!

January 2, 2011 - 9:21 amI am an owner in Ontario, I

Tim Dean SAID...

I am an owner in Ontario, I really think a plan for success could happen out east...Ontario harness racing is so large that it is a tough ship to turn, but we are...I really believe that all of us need to take steps towards recovering this sport.
I've been back for 1 year after a 25 years away...
maybe some tips for success
1. go to Grand River Raceway in is the best family entertainment in harness racing
2. have an additional lottery available for purchase with every race ticket like a
'pick 3'it would be like an encore purchase for a $1, have it progressive...everyone buys a lottery ticket
3.Improve the Ontario they have the 'Extreme series' I'm traditional so I don't enter, but it sure brings the fans in.

4. have honest trainers, drivers and owners
good luck and all the best

January 1, 2011 - 11:34 amI would just like to say ,

Mimi LeCain SAID...

I would just like to say , Kyle Burton , you deserve a lot of credit by bringing this topic up. We have 4 standardbreds at home , two could be raced but we have chosen to leave them in the barn. We did race at Truro with Life's Embrace but were not impressed with the OLD BOYS club in Truro.No wonder new owners get disturbed with Truro. No one makes you feel welcome, there are no promotion events, it's just a stagnet hellhole. I say turn the whole track over to new management with new innovative ideas. We know of at least 10 people who had standardbreds and have now either sold them or leave them in the barn.They got turned off beacause of the lack of professionalism, no security, too many claiming races , low purses and too few rules and regulations being enforced by judges. We are all praying a new track is going in in Metro.Kyle, I must tell you your father was always pleasant to us.We haven't met you but we have heard you are a go getter and that is what Truro needs. You should consider managing the track and a new face for the horsemen's association would greatly help.

December 31, 2010 - 9:35 amI am jeff cake and from a

jeff cake SAID...

I am jeff cake and from a far I think Truro has Somebeach flu. It costs just as much breeding,caring for a mare and foal training down as it would to go down to the states or ontario and buy a correct yearling eligible for a lot more money

Ten race cards was the norm for years. Racing 15 races on one card is like over eating a good meal - you get sick,
you need time to analyze each race, horse by horse to come up with the proper bet.

Horses that you see with no money bet on them if they finish out of the top three should have to re qualify - they must not be competive.

Borders are there to protect the interest of people who live within them, Canada as a whole should be blocking simlcasting from the states. They do it with satellite tv, why not horse racing? then split up the simulcast from race tracks within Canada.

December 28, 2010 - 11:09 pmThe suggestion that Truro

The suggestion that Truro adopt the Ajax Downs business plan is my response to the fact that small track harness racing is unsustainable in today's market place if takeout from wagering is the only source of purse money. Whether it is through bingos, bake sales or slot machines, supplementary funding is necessary to generate purses that make it possible for horseman to make a living at the smaller venues. When racing was the only game in town, increasing the fan base was a realistic goal but I suspect those days are well behind us. Thats why I'm not optomistic for the future of the small tracks. I love going to them, I'll miss them when they're gone, but I'm not sure they can survive.

December 28, 2010 - 4:39 pmThis is not an unfamiliar

Bob Yates SAID...

This is not an unfamiliar theme. I bet online through Woodbine. Why - I can bet into the big pools. I live very close to Whoop-up Downs in Lethbridge Alberta. We quit going there since, while I enjoy watching the races live, the pools are so low its pointless to play.

As others have said - a 10 dollar bet almost makes the horse even money. They even offer pick 3 wagers that usually end up with about 20 bucks in the pool. Why bother?

And for the anti-simulcast people out there - if there was not simulcasting, I wouldn't start playing at the local mini-mart horse track like Whoop-up or Truro - I would stop altogether. I think more people feel that way than the opposite.

The "B" tracks are going the way of the Dodo .. soon to be gone.

December 28, 2010 - 2:58 pmBernie, I am not sure why

Bernie, I am not sure why you recommend that Truro Raceway adopt the Ajax Downs game plan if it is as unstable as you suggest. Ajax Downs sounds new & unpopular in an area with high population density; Truro Raceway has been around for more than a century and sometimes has good attendance despite the area's low population density--it is more the tiny, declining handle that's the problem.

December 28, 2010 - 2:39 pmi've been around truro

Ryan Stewart SAID...

i've been around truro raceway for quite some time now mostly as a fan, i want to get into this industry deeper as an owner, but im not willing to pay 2000-2500 ect. for a horse racing for 925-975 after paying 20-30 dollars a day for a trainer, theres really no way of ever getting that initial expense ever back, I really like Mr. Mackenzies idea for the 800 claimers, 1200, 1500 ect like i know cape breton does, i can tell you that if this was the case at truro I would have had a horse along time ago. make the right changes that will allow people to get into this business for a reasonable price.

December 28, 2010 - 2:27 pmI love an occasional

I love an occasional afternoon of small track harness racing when the weather is nice. I hate cell phones and texting. Unfortunately the former is a dinosaur and the latter is reality. I have come to rely mainly on the internet and my television for the bulk of my horseplaying. Common pool wagering at the bigger tracks is the current direction of the serious wagering dollars. John Carter tends to be correct with all of his comments in these forums and I think he is accurate in his assessment of what the future holds. I differ slightly in that I believe a lot of the smaller tracks will be gone within 10 years. I suspect that larger, regional supertracks will survive but that is a discussion for another time.
I would suggest to the horsepeople of Truro that the business model of Ajax Downs in Ontario is likely your only way to survive. This track has weekend quarter horse racing about 6 months per year. Most days the mutuel handle is barely $1000 per race. They also have a large number of slot machines that operate year around (in a highly populated area)and provide sufficient funds to pay purse money that often exceeds $100,000 on a 10 race card. To the best of my knowledge, interest in quarter horse racing does not extend much beyond the participants themselves. At the moment the government allows this arrangement to exist but one has to wonder how long this will continue given the current budget deficits. Unfortunately, the future of small track harness racing hangs in the same delicate balance.

December 28, 2010 - 7:06 amWith all due respect to Mr.

John Carter SAID...

With all due respect to Mr. Lowe, this is the type of backward thinking that is just killing the industry. All people are going to do is either stay home and play the tracks they want or give up on the races all together. No one and i mean no one wants to bet into $38 dollar win pools and taking away the weg and big m will make matters even worse. You are trying to force a product onto people that they are simply not interested in.

December 27, 2010 - 9:44 pmOnce again, thank you

Kyle Burton SAID...

Once again, thank you everyone for your comments.

I personally believe Harness Racing will continue (and thrive once again) at Truro Raceway, but management cannot continue to do so alone.

You'd have a hard time finding anybody harder working than Joe Kelly or Diane Daniels. The pair are deeply dedicated to making Truro Raceway prosper and are always open to new ideas and suggestions. But, that's were the problem lies, however - they are only two people!!!

How can two people, whether they be Bill Gates and Steve Jobs or Joe Kelly and Diane Daniels, operate, maintain and restore Truro Raceway - all while on a shoe string budget. They can't, that's how.

And it's exactly why people like myself and others have stepped up to give them some support and backing through volunteering for events and what not. King Tut and his father certainly didn't build the Great Pyramids alone, and we shouldn't expect Joe Kelly and Diane Daniels to do so either.

They are two amazing people, each highly devoted to Truro Raceway, and they deserve a lot more credit than they've been getting. Hats off to them.


p.s. Blair, I really hope I didn't make you feel as if I was going off on you. This seems to be a common problem voiced by fellow horsepeople. As I said above, there's only so much two people can do and I hope I didn't alienate your too badly! :) ... Happy holidays!

December 27, 2010 - 9:17 pmi must say the same as bill

i must say the same as bill babineua, there should be a track in halifax, no one once to spend there hard working money on a horse to go for 1000.00 n get in three times a month.

Getting a track in halifax could be another issue, how long have they been trying that for, but i do believe it will bring racing back where it was, so many of us moved from halifax when sackville closed n a lot may move back if there was a new track.

Truro has the same faces, there is never anything different, same old thing, i realy hope they can pull through it, they need to keep racing alive until they come up with a plain to fix the problem, but that is not always easy

December 27, 2010 - 7:17 pmWhat is hurting truro is

What is hurting truro is racing 10 classes of 2000 claimers on a 14 dash card of racing in my opinion they need some diversity when they come back start at 800 and claimers and work up from there create a buzz and some movement in the claiming game i certainly hope that truro will survive but i feel in my opinion this is the only way to bring it back when it gets back up and running

dont get me wrong i am no expert but from racing in truro for 8 to 10 years before coming back to cape breton there has to be more fun for people at the track in my opinion truro has lost its sense of having a fun environment around the grounds it is hard for betters to bet on 2000 claimers when there is one lay over that is worth 2000 and the rest are 800 claimers and besides that when you have to condition the claimers for a cheaper class they really are not 2000 claimers it was always a nice spot to race and drew a good crowd you can get that back with different classification and maybe time for new management at the track

good luck guys and i am sure you will be back at it in march

December 27, 2010 - 5:30 pmI have been saying for years

john lowe SAID...

I have been saying for years when they started simulcasting. No simulcasting when live racing is on.

December 27, 2010 - 4:48 pmThanks everyone for your

Kyle Burton SAID...

Thanks everyone for your lovely responses. Any ideas you have to help racing are greatly appreciated.

To provide some insights into 'the plan' which Melissa speaks of, I'll fill you in on the details. Since the Atlantic Harness Racing Symposium in April, I've been working pretty diligently on a document to help move Truro Raceway forward.

The document is a mixture of collaboration, research and studies targeted solely at helping make Truro Raceway a self-sufficient, independent and profitable business. I led the plan, not for any self gains, but to benefit the industry - I really want to see it survive. The document is called the Truro Raceway Strategic Action Plan - a mouth full, so I've heard.

Insights were gathered from industry leaders, prominent local business people, independent media officials, college students, university professors, everyday working people and several other individuals from a wide spectrum of social groups. Their ideas and suggestions are the basis to the content found within this plan.

So far, the limited number of people who have reviewed the document have expressed great interest in it, mainly for providing a concrete direction for Nova Scotia Harness Racing to follow.

With help from industry leaders, horse owners associations and support from the customers, I truly believe this plan could drastically improve our future outlook for Truro Raceway. In a time when we seem to be most vulnerable, anything that promises improvement needs to acted upon.

I'll look into providing an e-book version of the document for download via my website in the coming weeks, now that Melissa and I have worked together to finish draft #2. (Kudos to her for doing an amazing job, I might add).

If anything at all, I just wish that this document, whether it has any merit or not, will put all shareholders in one room and we can leave as a unified force, fighting with a common purpose.


December 27, 2010 - 3:22 pmThe average win pool on

John Carter SAID...

The average win pool on truro's race card on dec 19th was a paltry $38 dollars per race. It was only about 20 to 25 years ago that truro's handle on a card was around $120 thousand per card, now it is approx $7 thousand per card. Racing and the breeding industry has been finished for along time now in nova scotia but people may only be accepting the reality of it now. If it is any consolation to the good folks in truro pretty much every other racetrack in north america will be joining you at some point in the next 20 to 30 years.

December 27, 2010 - 11:32 amKyle: I hope that your

Kyle: I hope that your efforts can gain support & help save the last live racing facility with pari-mutuel wagering in Mainland N.S. Please publicize any meetings or presentations that may follow from this plan, so that a wide range of participants can join the discussion.

Don: Maritime betting dollars are being wagered elsewhere because of too few local options, unfortunately. When there is $10 in the exactor/quinella pool (total for a given race), it is hard for the bettor to see value in making that type of bet at Truro. If the pools are too small, those who bet more will naturally choose to play Woodbine, Chester, Meadowlands, etc. via simulcast.

How can Truro Raceway build the pools is the question I would ask. The serious horseplayer demands value and accessibility; at present, neither characterizes betting on Truro's live product.

December 27, 2010 - 11:17 ambreeding horses in nova

breeding horses in nova scotia is a joke, you raise them cost five thousand put them in the sale and get nine hundred, that's good for the poor breeder. too survive there has to be a track in halifax area. who in their right mind would make that kind of invertment.

December 27, 2010 - 9:07 amI would like to know how the

I would like to know how the track in Truro stays open when there is less than $700/race bet on a Sunday afternoon (Dec. 19/10) card. Kind of mind boggling.

December 27, 2010 - 8:07 amKyle, It's not just

Don Daniels SAID...

It's not just happening in the Maritimes and/or Truro, rather it's happening all over North America.

Part of the real issue is in fact simulcasting (a polite term for OTB), and the exportation of local dollars to benefit the non-local products or people.

The issues in Quebec are a prime example. Upon the initial closing of the Quebec facilities, it was announced that 80% of the wagered dollars (within Quebec) were being sent to Non-Quebec locales.

What percentage of the Maritimes dollars are being exported to non-Maritimes venues?
There-in lies the answer and the solution.

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