Within minutes on Monday afternoon, announcements were made that signified good news for horsemen awaiting race dates in the Sarnia area and a bombshell of disappointment for Northern Ontario's harness racing season.
On Monday, May 26, the Ontario Racing Commission announced that it has approved 21 race dates for Hiawatha Horse Park’s 2014 season of live harness racing.
Hiawatha Horse Park, located in Sarnia, will hold its first live date on Saturday, June 28. From there, the track will host programs of live racing every Thursday and Saturday until September 6.
First-race post time for Hiawatha’s programs will be 6:30 p.m.
To view a race date calendar for the 2014 season at Hiawatha, click here.
Shortly thereafter, a press release was received from Sudbury Downs indicating that the track could not reach a deal with the province and thus will not hold live harness racing in 2014.
The official release from Sudbury Downs follows.
We have today advised the Ontario Racing Commission that, because of the lack of a commitment from the Province to provide adequate funding, there will be no live racing at Sudbury Downs in 2014. Race dates scheduled for June have been cancelled and further cancellations will be implemented as required.
After cancelling the highly successful Slots At Racetracks partnership in 2013 that generated substantial revenue for the provincial horse racing industry, the Province of Ontario has dedicated $500 million of public funding over the next five years to support the provincial horse racing industry. These funds will be allocated to various parts of the horse racing industry by the provincial regulator, the Ontario Racing Commission.
Despite extensive efforts over the last six months, Sudbury Downs has been unable to secure an agreement with the Province to allocate a reasonable share of the committed provincial funding, to the horse racing industry in northern Ontario. While the Province has offered to provide some funding for northern racing for the next five years, the level of support proposed is grossly inadequate and represents approximately 1% of the funding provided to the whole industry.
Sudbury Downs has provided its detailed operating costs and revenues to the provincial regulator and has offered to conduct its racing operations on a “Not For Profit” basis that would be subject to provincial monitoring and audit. We are not prepared to incur substantial operating losses for the next five years. Our offer has not been accepted by the provincial regulator.
The province, through the Ontario Racing Commission, has failed to recognize the unique circumstances and challenges faced by the horse racing industry in northern Ontario. As the only racetrack in northern Ontario, Sudbury Downs is isolated from the bulk of the horse racing industry in southern Ontario, and is truly a regional racetrack that must singularly provide for the needs of the northern industry. Similarly, northern horsepeople do not have the same flexibility or options as their southern Ontario counterparts. A funding model for horse racing in the southern part of the province where there are 15 racetracks in relatively close proximity, is not necessarily appropriate for northern Ontario.
The Ontario Racing Commission has also taken away, without compensation, Sudbury Downs’ off-track betting rights in northern Ontario. Off-track betting across the north provided significant income to help offset track operating costs and to provide purse funds for the horsepeople. The Ontario Racing Commission has now ordered that these revenues from northern Ontario wagering go directly to the racetracks in southern Ontario.
Sudbury Downs sincerely regrets that, after 40 years of operating live horseracing, we must now terminate this part of our business. The loss of approximately 100 full time equivalent jobs in the local horse racing industry will have negative consequences for our local economy today and into the future. We thank all our dedicated horsepeople, racing employees and fans for their participation over the last 40 years.