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Invested In Seeing The Industry Grow

Published: February 19, 2019 6:16 pm ET

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Jessica Buckley has seen and continues to see, first-hand, the resiliency of Ontario horse racing and its horsepeople.

Well before her current role as President, Woodbine Mohawk Park, Buckley had already developed an affinity for, and connection with, horse racing.

She furthered her involvement with the sport through her Vice President, Community Relations and Corporate Affairs position with Woodbine Entertainment Group, a post she held for two years, in addition to previous roles within racing in the United States.

Aside from her responsibilities at Woodbine Mohawk Park, Buckley also sits on the Ontario Racing Board of Directors, on behalf of Premier Standardbred Racetracks.

Buckley, along with Jim Lawson (CEO, Woodbine Entertainment, on behalf, of Premier Thoroughbred Racetracks), Jim Thibert (CEO, Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, on behalf of Signature Thoroughbred Racetracks), Hugh Mitchell (President, Western Fair District, on behalf of Signature Standardbred Racetracks) and Ian Fleming (General Manager, Clinton Raceway, on behalf of Grassroots Standardbred Racetracks), represent the racetracks.

Bill O’Donnell (President, COSA, on behalf of Standardbred Horsepeople), Sue Leslie (President, HBPA, on behalf of Thoroughbred Horsepeople), Bob Broadstock (President, Quarter Horse Racing Owners of Ontario, on behalf of Quarter Horse Horsepeople) and Walter Parkinson (President, SBOA, on behalf of Standardbred Breeders) represent the Associations on the board. The organization is currently seeking to fill its vacant Thoroughbred Breeders seat.

“I think one of the first positives that comes to mind is that we are functioning very well as a group,” said Buckley. “I feel that to date, it is working… the concept of having representation from all across the province and from the diverse groups and stakeholders – everyone’s voice is being heard.”

With so many voices, Buckley acknowledged there are moments when there can be lively, yet respectful conversations between board members.

“There are debates, but it’s been a well-functioning board from my perspective,” she offered. ”The unifying force is that the board members realize we’re all in this together and that the only path forward is one of positivity and working together for everyone’s benefit.”

While those on the board are passionate about championing the causes for the respective groups and people they represent, Buckley, who took over the reins of her Woodbine Mohawk Park role on August 28, 2017, appreciates the ‘team first’ philosophy of the OR Board.

“I think that everyone on the board is very cognizant of the fact that industry decisions work better with all of those represented groups included,” she noted. “We’re all so interdependent on one another – the customer, the breeder, the owner, the racetracks, the horseperson groups, the horsepeople – no one can exist, survive and thrive without the other. That is really the essence of what this board brings together.”

In a recent interview with John Hayes, the OR Chair remarked, “Members haven’t been afraid to speak up. At the end of the day, when a vote is called you might not have total agreement but everyone has had the opportunity to express their views and we all get on the same plane.”

Buckley concurs.

“There’s always an understanding that you’re there to make decisions for the greater good of the industry.”

She sees plenty of opportunities for racing in Ontario to be successful across the board – Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Quarter Horse – both in the short and long term.

“I’m optimistic because I think the long-term funding agreement has given people, all the groups mentioned, confidence that there is a future and that people can invest and continue to be involved in a sport they love.

“I also think the Ontario Government has been very receptive to Ontario Racing, the unified voice and the leadership that is coming through the board and John Hayes. We’ve been very effective in getting the government to understand the issues that we face and how we can work together. I really believe that it’s working.”

Having a unified voice, Buckley notes, is imperative for the Ontario racing industry to flourish.

“As we make good decisions as a board, the confidence will grow and the trust will grow.”

With that, Buckley points to certain keys to help racing grow in scope and popularity in the province and beyond.

“We are always looking at continuing to export our product into new markets,” she said. “There is still a lot of opportunity in the United States and further abroad for Canadian racing. Americans are paying attention to what’s going on in Ontario. That’s an important continue growing our foreign wagering and exposure for Ontario racing. It’s always great to highlight Canadian racing, such as the Breeders Crown, which is coming to Woodbine Mohawk Park this year (October 25 and 26). It’s also important for us to have the strong purses, the HIP funding, and the other programs in place for horsepeople to continue to encourage investment in the industry.”

An industry Buckley believes is on the right track.

“The horsepeople of Ontario have a great passion for racing,” she said. “Everyone involved, we’re all invested in seeing our industry grow, create jobs and continuing to showcase our world-class product.”

(Courtesy Ontario Racing)

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