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HRBC Continues Push For Funding

Published: April 16, 2021 5:47 pm ET

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Harness racing has been a fixture at Fraser Downs in Surrey for many decades, supporting decent livelihoods for families and an agricultural way of life. But as B.C. enters year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, horse racing in the Fraser Valley is facing difficult times.

“Because of COVID, we’ve been forced to suspend all racing indefinitely after the last race tonight and 135 workers will be unemployed,” said Nigel Holmes, executive director of Harness Racing BC. “We have no choice — we’ve literally run out of money to operate at the track.

“It means our regular spring racing meet will end early, and prospects are not good for our regular fall meet, unless we are able to negotiate some form of short term COVID financial support from the BC government,” Holmes said.

Horse racing groups are facing financial challenges because of the closure of the casino connected to Fraser Downs, and a similar track/casino complex at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver. Under a longstanding agreement with the province, thoroughbred and harness racing groups receive a share of slot machine revenue generated at the casinos.

“It’s money we use to sustain the industry, run races, hire workers, pay the purses, maintain the track, stable horses, and fund a host of agricultural support programs for breeding, rearing and training,” Holmes said. “But casinos were closed early in 2020, and that revenue source has dried up — with significant consequences.”

Holmes says his group would like to renew discussions with Victoria about possible emergency support measures that will help the industry make it through 2021 and be able to flourish as B.C. recovers from the pandemic.

“We are committed to finding a way to survive this year. Those involved in harness racing are very passionate about its place in our sporting and agricultural communities. In the coming days and weeks, we will be making that case as we meet with government representatives,” he says.

In addition to the 135 layoffs, Holmes says the suspension of racing will impact on the local economy. He says the horse racing industry will no longer be purchasing a full range of goods and services from businesses including feed suppliers, hay sales, veterinarians, and farriers — many of which are multi-generational, locally-owned businesses.


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