More than six years after the creation of the Quebec Jockey Club, outgoing chairman Tony Infilise is pretty happy with what’s been accomplished so far.
The non-profit corporation has its own racetrack (with one-third of the mortgage paid off in three years), presents 40 days of live racing with $2.5 million in purses, and has a total handle of about $75 million through its teletheaters, provincial internet betting and on-track wagers at Hippodrome 3R in Trois-Rivieres.
“But I’d be dishonest if I said we didn’t expect (provincial) government investment by now. That really has been slow. I guess we’re suffering from some of the baggage of 2007-2008 (when private corporation Attractions Hippiques ran Quebec’s tracks and went bankrupt). But we haven’t stopped and we’re hoping for some breakthrough soon. Ontario aligned with OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.) for their program and a lot of similar ideas could be implemented here with Loto-Quebec. The case is so compelling for what a minor investment in the industry could do to get us up to 3,000 jobs, a lot of them in the regions. We pay more in pari-mutuel tax than we pay in purses. We’re almost the only jurisdiction in Canada with no revenue from slot machines or VLTs.”
Infilise, who stepped down as chairman last week but will remain on the QJC board as a director, said the decision was not sudden. “We’ve been planning it for some time. We decided a year ago, in order to do it in an orderly manner. It’s been six-and-a-half years. It’s good to have someone new there. We’re all still working toward making it a viable, professional industry. We’ve accomplished a lot already, with very few resources.”
His successor is businessman Claude Lévesque, co-owner of successful pacer Duc Dorleans and the son of Quebec breeder Pierre Lévesque (Ferme Angus), a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Infilise said the OJC’s goals remain to gradually raise the number of live racing dates to 100 from 40 and to add a second racetrack somewhere in the Montreal area.
It had a couple of setbacks last year -- a teletheatre closed in Gatineau, and overall betting slipped to $75 million from $77 million a year earlier –- but Infilise is optimistic for 2016. The Coupe de L’Avenir and Coupe des Eleveurs stakes for two-year-olds and three-year-olds are being revived this year, and the drivers’ tournament will be moved to summer from fall, which will make it easier for some of the sport’s marquee names to come.
The number of broodmares registered in the province rose last year to 215 from 185 the year before, showing that breeders are getting more confident about the sport’s prospects in the province. The lost teletheatre will be replaced by a new location in the Montreal suburb of Brossard, and Woodbine Entertainment Group will be carrying the live program from Hippodrome 3R on its teletheatre network on Tuesday nights this year.
“I look forward to supporting all these initiatives,” said Infilise. “We have a very collaborative, congenial board."
(A Trot Insider Exclusive by Paul Delean; photo credit: Sylvain Gagnon)