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Many Questions Remain For Ontario Horse Racing

Published: January 25, 2013 2:02 pm ET

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Thursday's press conference by the Woodbine Entertainment Group got the word out about 2013 race dates and overnight purses on the WEG circuit, and the fact that the North America Cup will be contested, although many questions pertaining to the WEG itself and other Ontario racetrack remain unanswered.

In addition to Trot Insider's in-depth coverage of the WEG announcement, mainstream media publications also ran items on the Canadian racetrack giant's agreement, which has been reached in principle, with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

As a story by Hayley Mick in The Globe and Mail explains, WEG President and CEO Nick Eaves stated that Woodbine's operating model will be forced to undergo alterations, which he characterized as “significant changes.” Eaves went on to say that the two-year agreement reached between WEG and OMAFRA marked "the initial downsizing of the industry,” and that the nation's top horse-racing circuit will have to now go through a process of “identifying new sources of revenue.” When asked whether more layoffs will be coming at WEG, Eaves opted to not comment.

In another interview, this time with veteran racing journalist Jennifer Morrison for her piece in the Toronto Star, Eaves weighed in on the hot topic of casino expansion in the City of Toronto, stating that the implementation of a full-blown casino at Woodbine Racetrack is "vital” for the continued success of Canada's largest raceway. “We can’t be in the horse racing/gambling business and compete with a casino next door,” Eaves said.

The president and CEO of Woodbine eluded to the fact that his organization would be forced to evolve in order to at least maintain its status quo. “We are going to have to look seriously at changing,” Eaves told Morrison. “We are still going to offer the best product we can put on, but certainly things have changed.”

While WEG's announcement of its two-year deal was welcomed news to its employees, handicappers and the horsepeople that race their stock at the tracks, the same cannot necessarily be said for those in the Hamilton / Flamborough area that feel shut out due to the fact that there is still no arrangement in place for Flamboro Downs.

As a report by the Hamilton Spectator explains, Flamboro Downs employs more than 600 people, and Hamilton Councillors Judi Partridge and Robert Pasuta are frustrated that there is still no agreement between the operators of Canada's fastest half-mile track and OMAFRA.

“I’m disappointed the same dealings haven’t been firmed up with Flamboro Downs,” Partridge was quoted as saying. “How does this help the situation?” Pasuta also commented, stating, “This is so unfair to our residents in Flamborough, and people throughout the province. It is entirely unfair to not give assurances about what the future looks like (for the racetrack industry).”

Pasuta also said that he “really thought [WEG's Thursday announcement] was going to go further than that."

(With files from The Globe and Mail, the Hamilton Spectator and the Toronto Star)

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