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O'Briens Affirm Industry Importance

Published: January 31, 2017 10:25 am ET

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A number of officials from across Ontario were on hand for the 2016 O'Brien Awards, and had nothing but praise for the industry and the black tie awards gala.

Standardbred Canada announced harness racing’s national champions this past Saturday at the 2016 O’Brien Awards, honouring Canada’s best in harness racing over the past season.

Jeff Leal, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, was just one of the dignitaries that participated in the 2016 O’Brien Awards black tie gala. Minister Leal took the time to explain why the Standardbred racing industry plays such an important role in the economy of rural Ontario.

“Well, it is very important to us,” Leal said. “As Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – particularly the Rural Affairs side of it – I get the opportunity to visit a lot of small tracks in the province. In fact, I have one of them right in my hometown of Peterborough –- Kawartha Downs –- and I go out on four or five occasions and make the odd bet on horses at Kawartha Downs.

“I really enjoy it. (Horse racing) is a very important industry in rural Ontario. The people in the business buy the Ford F-150s, they have veterinarians that work for them, they buy hay and feed, so it really is a very important aspect of the rural economy in Ontario.”

Ontario Racing Executive Director Rob Cook said that his organization jumped at the opportunity to sponsor the O’Brien’s media excellence awards, and that OR recognizes the important role that the black tie gala plays in showcasing and honouring the province’s harness racing industry.

“Ontario Racing is looking to support the Standardbred industry whenever we can,” said Cook, who was attending his first O’Brien Award gala. “Obviously, the awards night is a big night, it’s very visible, and Ontario Racing wants to be seen to be supportive, so we are here and happy to be sponsoring the award on the media side. It’s great.”

Even those not directly connected to the harness racing industry recognize its importance to Canadian municipalities, cities and provinces.

Milton Mayor Gordon Krantz was also amongst the crowd on Saturday. The longtime mayor and supporter of Ontario harness racing is a veteran of the O’Briens gala, and he took the opportunity to convey why the local racing industry is such a key cog for his municipality.

“The horse racing industry -– not only in Ontario, but in the Town of Milton -– is very important,” Krantz said. “One of the main reasons, of course, is that we have Mohawk Racetrack in the Town of Milton, which is a huge part of our economy. Milton is made up of a fairly large rural area -– which, of course, really blends itself to the horse racing industry -– and a fairly large urban area, as well. So, hence I have been very supportive of the horse racing industry for many, many years.”

Liberal MPP Indira Naidoo-Harris (Halton) also took in another edition of the O’Brien Awards on Saturday, and the Minister of Women’s Issues / Minister Responsible for Early Years and Child Care.

“It’s always a fantastic evening. It’s so great because it’s such a celebration of harness racing and it really gives me a chance to get out and meet some of the folks in the industry and I always have a wonderful time,” said Naidoo-Harris.

“Harness racing is very important for my riding. My riding is Halton and we have Mohawk Racetrack right there in Halton. So, a lot of the breeders are here and [drivers] and people that are working on some of the farms are from Halton, so essentially, they are my friends and neighbours. This is my way of coming out and showing my support to the industry, but also to those people that are essentially my neighbours and do so much to support the local economy.”

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