Grassroots Track Making Gains

Another year facing waves of COVID-19 restrictions didn't stop a small-town Canadian harness track from hitting big numbers.

In 2021, Leamington Raceway enjoyed wagering gains that topped recent pre-pandemic levels, according to a Windsor Star article.

“You’ve got a really dedicated group of individuals there who are totally committed to horse racing and that cascades down," John Hayes, chair of Ontario Racing, was quoted as saying. "Their wagering was really up. Wagering is very important to the future of horse racing in Ontario.”

Figures reported by the Windsor Star indicated there was more than $40,000 wagered on 11 of Leamington's 13 race cards in 2021, including a single-day track record of $46,700. All-sources handle for the 13-day meet was $537,182, exceeding the previous year's $324,000 and the pre-pandemic season total of $463,000 in 2019.

"It was one of our best seasons ever,” said horseman and Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain. “I think we picked up a better calibre of horses and we changed our focus a bit, we really concentrated on making it a family day.”

The outdoor family-friendly atmosphere attracted crowds as big as 1,000, which translated to on-track wagering reported by the Windsor Star to have tripled from the previous year, soaring to more than $300,000.

“We are run by horse racing people,” commented Mark Williams, horseman and president of Lakeshore Horse Racing Association, which operates the track. “So we never lose sight of the fact that we don’t have [an] industry if we don’t have [any] fans. We created a family atmosphere and that goes hand in hand with our own horse people."

Leamington's 13-race day season for 2022 will feature Sunday afternoon racing programs, once again, running from August through October.

(With files from Windsor Star)