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BC To Drop 2011 Race Dates?

Published: August 14, 2010 9:38 am ET

Last Comment: August 17, 2010 8:51 pm ET | 16 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In a bombshell announcement issued Friday by the British Columbia Government's Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch of the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, the future of harness racing on Canada's west coast took a major blow when Great Canadian Gaming asked to "rescind all assigned [2011] race days for the standardbred sector."

The letter further goes on to say that discussions with Horse Racing Alberta (HRA) are already underway to possibly create an inter-provincial standardbred racing season for 2011 with four months of racing in BC from January to April, then shifting to Alberta from September to December.

The letter appears in its entirety below.

Horse Racing Industry Participants:

As discussed at the open meeting with industry on July 27,2010, the financial challenges affecting the horse racing industry have created a very difficult environment for racing in this province and elsewhere.

While we all hope the fiscal picture has stabilized and will begin to improve, it is much too early to reach any conclusions in that regard. Perhaps more importantly, it is clear a significant and fundamental change in business approach is necessary if the industry is to have an opportunity for real and sustained recovery.

The Horse Racing Industry Management Committee has been striving to balance a number of competing challenges (declining revenues, everyone's desire to have better and more race dates despite that, etc). The committee has been strategic, thoughtful and organized in its efforts to achieve the best results possible, including making difficult financial allocations that did not necessarily reflect traditional practices.

To date, the committee has focussed on the current year, in order to fully understand and explain the financial realities, stabilize circumstances and mitigate any negative consequences.

However, we have clearly heard the industry is concerned about what will happen in the future. Participants in the industry are looking for a longer-tern vision. In this regard, the committee intends to implement a plan that creates the best possible opportunities for success. This will require some difficult decisions.

I am writing today to communicate decisions taken by the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (GCGC) regarding the current and coming race seasons.

This plan is endorsed and supported by the Horse Racing Industry Management Committee, which believes the following steps will best prepare horse racing in British Columbia for a successful and sustainable future.

Race days and financial allocations for the duration of 2010

GCGC has advised the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB), in its role as regulator of the industry, that GCGC is adjusting the race season for the standardbred sector for both 2010 and 2011.

For the remainder of 2010, GCGC has requested that GPEB reduce the number of assigned race days for the standardbred sector from 37 to 23 days during the period between October 15 and December 31, 2O1O. This reduction will not only avoid any overlap between British Columbia's thoroughbred and standardbred racing seasons, but will also improve the value of purses available for distribution among the remaining standardbred race dates.

GPEB has approved this revised racing schedule, which includes Fridays and Sundays during the mid-October to December period, as well as Thursday, November 11.

At present, the committee does not anticipate any change in 2010 financial allocations made to either the standardbred or thoroughbred sectors as a result of this reduction in standardbred race days.

Standardbred race days and financial allocation for 2O11

For 2011, GCGC has requested that GPEB rescind all assigned race days for the standardbred sector but has indicated that it may in future request approval to race in 2011 with the number of potential race days yet to be determined.

GCGC has verbally advised the committee that the viability of a 2011 standardbred race season will be significantly enhanced if the Harness Racing BC Society (HRBCS) can reach an arrangement with the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association (ASHA) and Horse Racing Alberta (HRA) to establish an inter-provincial standardbred racing season. Discussion with HRA have already identified the possibility of a season that would involve four (4) months of racing in BC (January to April) and four (4) months in Alberta (September to December) starting in 2011.

The Horse Racing Industry Management Committee proposes to establish a dedicated task force involving the HRBCS to ensure timely and effective negotiations between the relevant parties, with the goal of formalizing this arrangement prior to October 15, 2010.

The intention is to establish a coordinated inter-provincial standardbred racing season beginning in 2011 and continuing thereafter. Such a coordinated effort has the potential to stabilize the breed in both provinces, provide a lengthy race season for interested standardbred participants in both BC and Alberta, and allow the BC industry to achieve some operating savings through a shortened season at Fraser Downs.

Given a shortened 2011 standardbred season, the committee anticipates a reduction in the allocation to the standardbred sector in 2011. This reduction will reflect industry revenues but ideally, will also facilitate increased purses for the remaining race days.

Once the 2011 season has been determined, the committee will make decisions concerning the allocation of available funds in the best interests of British Columbia's horse racing industry.

Derek Sturko
Chair, BC Horse Racing Industry Management Committee

pc: Honourable Rich Coleman
Committee members
Chris Curtis
Doug Scott

August 17, 2010 - 8:51 pmI have sent a copy of this

I have sent a copy of this letter to both Derek Sturko, Rich Coleman and members of the standardbred media with my concerns about this decision.

My family has been involved in standardbred racing for three generations and the fact that you have targeted the standardbred sector sickens me.
You have not realized the effect this will have on thousands of lives both human and equine. You are leaving many family facing the decision of uprooting themselves and leading thousands of horses to the slaughter house.
I have many questions for you regarding your choice to effectively kill the standardbred sector while the thoroughbred sector remains unharmed:
Why is it that the thoroughbred sector has $22.5 million less projected revenue in 2010 then received in 2009 yet their dates and purse pool remain unaffected?
The difference between the projected 2010 standardbred revenue and those received in 2009 are only $3.8 million ( a far cry from the thoroughbred's 22.5 million dollar shortfall). Would the shorted race season not account for part of this shortfall? (shortened fall meet/cutting last weekend of racing / cancellation due to weather?)
Great Canadian shows increased profit margins in every other business sector but racing. How do we know that the numbers aren’t manipulated to show this? (i.e. racing vs. casino cost)
How do we know that casino costs are not being written off against the racing side.
The slots were brought into Fraser Downs and Hastings Park to help the racing industry. Should the funds from these slots not be included in the racing sectors revenue?
If GC wants to state the thoroughbred sector is so healthy that they do not need to reduce their race dates or purses then why are they not repaying the debt to the standardbred sector?
It is rumoured that Great Canadian could not account for three million dollars that was to be allocated to the standardbred sector. Why is this so?
The first proposed racing calendar was ten months long (September to June) then before the end of the 2009/2010 meet the calendar was reduced to 9 months (October to June). Many members of the racing community bought horses this summer understanding they had 9 months to make a return on their investment. Do you plan to compensate these members of the racing community for their lost investment?
The Alberta standardbred horse association has a long standing tradition of denying BC Horsemen stall. Also Bill Andrews of ASHA as already stated they have no interest in an inter-provincial race meet.
Even if this was possible; When Standardbreds used to not race during the overlap at Fraser downs/ Cloverdale raceway there was still a long meet at Sandown Park. With the elimination of Sandown do you really think it is viable for horsemen/women to commute 1300 km to Alberta? Do you plan to compensate the horsemen/women for the cost to relocate 4 months out of the year?
There are funds set aside to maintain the long standing tradition of racing in the interior (Princeton, Vernon and Kamloops). Why was nothing done to protect the long standing tradition of racing at Sandown Park?
Have you thought of the number of jobs this will effect and the economic impact?
Have you thought about the number of horses that are now worthless? Have you thought of where these horse will go?

August 16, 2010 - 12:20 pmI will be writing to Rich

I will be writing to Rich Coleman and all the others as has been suggested here. But I have a question that I would like to ask of Mr. Rich Coleman, and it is in regards to a statement made about him by Great Canadian (it was either in my Hastings race program on Aug.2nd BC Cup Day or announced to the crowd....sorry wish I had saved my program that day) that " Mr. Rich Coleman was a friend of horse racing". My question is this then, "Mr. Coleman are you like Great Canadian has claimed a friend of horse racing? Or are you a friend of Thoroughbred racing perhaps? Or simply just a friend of Great Canadian and the crew there? " Because if you are truly a friend of horse racing, then you should be a friend of BOTH tracks and not allow Great Canadian to do this to the Standardbred horsemen and their families here in BC! And if Great Canadian is giving these guys clubhouse comps, etc. I would have to say that is just a little wrong....

August 16, 2010 - 2:41 amIt now sure looked like

Bo Yury SAID...

It now sure looked like maybe Great Canadian Gaming had a agenda when it bought Fraser Downs; the principals there are involved in thoroughbred ownership and racing and when Hastings didn't have the slots was Fraser Downs that would foot the needed cash and be the "cash cow" for Hastings; The standard bred industry through Fraser Downs and the slots supported the Hastings industry for all those years with the understanding and agreements that that money would be returned when Hastings got their slots....but lo' and behold...Hastings will not be required to pay back this loan; WHAT A KICK IN THE BEHIND!!!!!! And why would great Canadian gaming want to support but re-negate on their their support for the standard bred industry when it all can go to Hastings and principals there for their quest for the triple crown!!! and to make Hastings an "A" track out of a "B" track while making Fraser into a "B" track out of an "A"...It's an irony but Hastings will never be anything but a "B" track in thoroughbred standards as long as it's a 5/8 mile bull pen; Does anyone see room for expansion there? or even get past Vancouver city council? Now does Mr Sturko actually think his plan will save not only the BC standard bred industry but also the Alberta industry with his "throw a bone" out there plan? This is only the beginning of the end!!!It's all partisan politics with Victoria and gaming not harness racing that is the only game! Maybe Chuck Keeling will come back and resurrect the industry like his Grandfather did after Canadian gaming destroys it any many livelyhoods! As before mentioned... maybe we can now see better why Keeling left something that was all his life!!

August 15, 2010 - 3:11 pmIn response to Mr. Sturko's

In response to Mr. Sturko's surprise announcement late friday afternoon, my thoughts turn to why he did not announce this at the July 27th meeting at the Boulevard with a good number of horsemen present. Throughout that meeting Mr. Sturko's arrogant and condescending attitude made it impossible for people to give positive suggestions on how we might find additional sources of revenue, and to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the committee. The committee's mandate was to revitablize Horse Racing in BC, including harness and thoroughbred. Before the committee began its work Standardbred Racing had a 4 year contract with Great Canadian, and enough revenues to operate and still loan the thoroughbred racing industry 6 million dollars. Are we going backwards??? from a sustainable base of funding to where the committee has now forgiven the 6 million dollar loan for us and taken away any chance for the industry to help ourselves. Mr. Sturko's assumption that 23 days of racing between now and the end of the year, with higher purses, is a viable solution, is inaccurate. When standardbred horsemet had their Contract, and not the committee, Standardbred horsemen negotiated with Great Canadian to have more days, and smaller purses, so we could protect the 7,000 jobs that our industry provides. Anybody who knows anything about racing knows that there is no real competition to the two breeds racing 'head to head'. The facts do not support that notion.

Great Canadian published a calendar at the end of June 2010, with 97 race days established for standardbreds. Based on these race days, horsemen bred horses, purchased horses, and are now getting them ready to comply with the published calendar of Great Canadian. Will Government allow Great Canadian break this contract too???

Government should remember that they are committed to supporting businesses; and Harness Racing and Thoroughbred racing, are just as much a business as is Great Canadian. According to the Feasibility Study completed by the Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, Our industry supports 7,000 individuals in this Province of British Columbia. Businesses in Cloverdale, Langley, and other municipalities benefit from the spinoff of this industry.

Why would Mr. Sturko assume, without any consultation, that we would want to race and spend our money in Alberta for 4 months of the year, when our money should stay in this province and keep families together.

In closing I have no confidence in the Committee's ability to revitalize this industry. I must congratulate Bill Boden for his hard work in trying to represent us, and understand his reasons for having to leave the committee. I can only hope that Rich Coleman will step up to the plate and do the right thing for ALL parties.


Bob Chadwick

August 15, 2010 - 1:28 pmIt's obvious Great Canadian

It's obvious Great Canadian Gaming is trying to kill harness racing.
We all know the handle has been going down for years. However the handle at Hastings has been falling at the same rate, just as it is in Alberta.
Hastings live handle is in the $150,000 range and Northlands is as low as 60,000 on some nights.
Handles at Northlands and Hastings are now what they were a few years ago for harness racing. Make no mistake they are falling just as fast.
If they get away with this reduction, they will be doing the same at Hastings in a couple of years.
They don't want racing eating in to their action. They just want the casinos!

August 15, 2010 - 11:20 amThe well has run dry.

The well has run dry.

August 15, 2010 - 10:56 amUPDATE: the standardbred

Jeff Porchak SAID...

UPDATE: the standardbred groups in Alberta and British Columbia have issued responses to this proposal.
Harness BC -

August 15, 2010 - 9:51 amHere is Rich Coleman's email

Here is Rich Coleman's email address [email protected] and here is Derek Sturko's [email protected]

Please let these people know what you think of Great Canadian Casinos, and the governments, decison to allow them cut days at Fraser Downs

August 15, 2010 - 8:52 amI applaud SC for a noble

ron francis SAID...

I applaud SC for a noble attempt to revive and stabilize harness racing. Pretty difficult assignment when most of track operators just don't care. Again, the cure (slots) is the killer.

August 15, 2010 - 1:29 amUnfortunately it is evident

Mike Munoz SAID...

Unfortunately it is evident that we are being phased out, it would be next to impossible for a trainer to support a family or make a living of any kind. The 2011 season would remove more than 50% of horse people making it that much easier to taking the last step of putting an end to our industry. Does anybody believe the committee when they say it is a step to re stabilize the industry? It's hard to after reading the contradictions from the text above and the asha response. I want to believe that it will help stabilize us because it probably could be a smart business decision if it would help our future because in previous years all that we have been worrying about is next year and the ridiculous amount of bonus money rather than investing in marketing and exposure to the youth for 10 to 20 years down the road because all that is happening is that the market is shrinking year after year, generation after generation to the point where there just aren't any customers or fans. We can try to fight or picket, but when who you are fighting against is the owner and the regulator you can't win. All that we can do is try to work with this committee and as long as they provide results in marketing, promoting and a stabilized business model even at a smaller scale it would be better than coming across as ungrateful, hostile hooligans to the province and gcgc it would be an easy decision for them to just pull the plug. They made their point clear at the meeting, it's not our right to race these horses, we choose to.

August 15, 2010 - 12:46 amI would just like to thank

I would just like to thank Mr. Sturko for ruining any and all chances for us ever to make a comeback for harness racing out in BC. I find it quite pathetic to first read about Ontario's Racing development and sustainability plan which sees a government and racing body trying to move forward and better racing for years to come and then read about what our great leaders out in BC are coming with for my future, its unreal to think that these people have put us here where we are now. I would also like to thank Bill Andrew for writing his article and helping to clarify what our great leaders are trying to make happen, it was a well written response and he is very right in saying that we are being thrown to the wolves out here. Three years ago we were on top of the world with big purses and ten months racing, last year we were surviving within our own means and now this, government comes in and six months later we are being told that we are to race for four months next year and thats final, wow seems like a really bad dream and we all hope to wake up really soon. The end is closer every day with our futures being handled by these people and its very sad to think of whats next.

August 14, 2010 - 6:03 pmIsn't it time to rally the

Lance Goshko SAID...

Isn't it time to rally the troops in defiance to decisions being made that will dramatically alter our futures as horsemen? How many times must we endure the end results of Great Canadian's misleading vision, and its obvious business agenda to eradicate standardbred racing in B.C.? From that fateful day when they came into the picture our business has systematically been prepared, by them, for its own self destruction. Where we thought casinos would be a saviour is now an inevitable push towards our eventual demise. How long before we respond with more than just a whimper of reaction amongst ourselves as we are bulldozed into submission. If they want to take away the livelihoods of standardbred horsemen (as is the plan) should we not protest this action with an action by picketing, or even conducting lawful blockades outside their casinos to defend our position -- and weaken theirs in the eyes of a sympathetic public and wary investors of this publicly-traded company. Does it sound radical to think such ideas? Media coverage is an ally in a Samson versus Goliath scenario. Publicity of our plight is essential if we are to fight this wrong being perpetutated upon us. You may argue with me that such actions may accelerate our demise. . ., perhaps, but it could equally also play a significant role in showing them that we will not go silently into the night. And that we deserve respect and a future on par with the efforts being made to revitalize thoroughbred racing at Hastings Park. Maybe, with determination and frank but fair dialogue, we can turn this business around by using the significant resources available to us through corporate and governmental marketing stategies. Of course, there is also the other option which is to "hope" that GCGC's financial measures or grand master plan to revive our stumbling sport comes to pass, but that kind of wishful thinking will undoubtedly leave those of you who depend on racing as a source of income stumbling into a uncertain future. Simply stated: if GCGC reduces Fraser Downs to four months of live racing it will uproot the lives of horsemen and their families and put them into constant financial peril. Equally, it would make the sport financially a black hole and unviable for those of us such as myself who support the industry as breeders and owners. I have long enjoyed my participation in B.C. horse racing -- I was there the first day Cloverdale opened and, sadly, I was there the last day we raced at Sandown Park. I believe GCGC's overall corporate growth plans do not, nor ever have, included horse racing as an integral piece to its puzzle. They have used horse racing as a sacrifice to help bolster their real focus which is establishing their casino businesses across Canada. GCGC is in the business of slots and cards. Horse racing is the smokescreen GCGC and its cordial alliance with cash-hungry provincial governments have used to establish a tolerance and acceptance for casinos across Canada. The two of them coerced standardbred horsemen from B.C. to Ontario into believing the notion that significant revenues from casinos would make horse racing prosper. We now see the real results of their misguided efforts. And now that their recession-related revenue predictions have stagnated we are now being cashed in as chips because of their business shortcomings. Ray Gemmill is true in his words when he said Jim Keeling's vision for racing in B.C. has been decimated by the actions of GCGC. But it is my vision that we as horsemen initiate a response befitting the callous action that is being decided against us. We need to rally the troops. I, for one, will remember the actions of those elected politicians who have enabled GCGC's heavy-handed tactics to proceed. Secondly, I will not set foot in a casino owned by GCGC. And lastly, I ask horsemen across Canada to defend our way of life by not allowing a company led by morally- and ethically-defunct businessmen, or an easily replaceable politician, ruthlessly throw away our existence in exchange for a nickel machine and its greedily sliced up shares. This is the time for our emergence as a unified front. Without it thousands of horsemen and women and their livelihoods will disappear, along with our sport.

August 14, 2010 - 5:38 pmNow we know why Keeling

Josh Menard SAID...

Now we know why Keeling stepped down.

August 14, 2010 - 11:37 pmCy McEwen Greed has caught

cy mcewen SAID...

Cy McEwen

Greed has caught up with fraser downs. Upon the opening of Fraser Downs Casino years back the BC Racing Commision was all in for the long haul for Standardbred racing. With profit sharing with the thoroughbred industry. The Standardbreds are getting the Liberal shaft.

Not only was the casino supposed to enrich standardbred racing at Fraser Downs the sharing agreement was unfair and distribution unfair. The Thoroughbreds got their undeserved share and once the casino at Hastings came in the Standardreds got nothing .Liberals in power started to smack their lips at this new money.What happened to the agreement back in the beginning that was supposed to support both breeds ? Gordon Campbell will stop at nothing to rape and pillage every form of horse racing and gambling money available in bc and spend this money elsewhere.. What concessions did the thoroughbreds make to help the standardbreds ! none .. You better be watching over your backs thoroughbreds. It sounds to me like derek sturko, rich coleman and all the other campbell puppets need to be put back in box and let the gambling revenues be distributed where it was supposed to be .. I can't wait to hear campbells response that he did not know this was going on, this is all about liberal greed..

Stop all the political BS and put the money back where its supposed to be. Standardbred horsemen and women work very hard to support their fammilies and and in their industry create many jobs .. They don't need to be told to go elsewhere to support their families when we can blow 10s of millions on a boatload of illegal so called refuges that want to jump immigrant line
Cy McEwen

August 14, 2010 - 12:41 pmJim Keelings vision of

bill gemmill SAID...

Jim Keelings vision of bringing standardbred racing to BC is dead.
Ever since the BC government assumed control the writing was on the wall, millions of dollars that the slots generated in Fraser Downs went to the runners and the governemnt unilaterally decided that the runners did not have to pay it back.
With this move it is obvious that both Great Gaming and the provincial government have no interest in keeping the track in Cloverdale open.
All those who thought the slots were a panacea are now finding out the reality: with the slots they don't need the standardbreds.
How can any horseman in BC justify keeping his operation running for 4 months racing in a year and they all can't go to Ontario. The promise of 4 months additional racing in Alberta is a joke....where the hell are they going to race...Lacombe has to cancel every time they get rain, they bet $10,000 on a good day and Northlands has made it pretty clear they have no interest in the pacers.
And this should be of huge interest to Ontario horsemen as Great Gaming also controls Flamboro and Georgian Downs.........

August 14, 2010 - 12:21 pmIn 40 years of being a

In 40 years of being a groom, trainer, owner, driver in California, Washington, Oregon, Alberta, BC, and being licensed in throughbred and standardbred racing I thought I had just about seen it all to yesterday. Without a doubt the darkest day horse racing has ever seen in either breed, here in BC. How the standardbred side of horse racing could go from haveing a dedicated following of horseman and bettors, in less than one year to this, is hard to fathom. Since this committee set up by the government has taken over horse racing in BC, it has fallen in to turmoil. The government has obviously chosen to support Throughbred racing and let Standardbred racing die a slow painful death.

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