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Hill Has Had Enough

Published: July 7, 2008 3:47 pm ET

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Confronted with uncertainty in the Alberta standardbred racing industry, breeder Mona Hill has sent a letter to Trot Insider voicing her displeasure over the treatment of the provinces' standardbred participants over the past few years.

Hill's letter appears below.

The 'Equality' within Horse Racing in Alberta

What a difference a few years can make. Just a few years ago we were the model and the envy throughout Canada and possibly North America, for having such a fantastic program and future for harness racing. They were writing about us in magazines. Breeders improved their stock; they bought better broodmares and better stallions. Owners not only bought yearlings at the yearling sale, they bought farms to put them on, built training centers and this was one of the best places to be, if you were involved in Harness Racing.

Then in 2006 we got some bad news regarding the new track proposed for Balzac, it was behind schedule. Dr. David Reid, CEO of HRA, stood before us at our annual ASHA General Meeting and announced that we would be facing a difficult year. He referred to it as a 'transition year'. He encouraged us, to 'stay the course', convinced us 'all is well' and the new track would open early 2007. He assured us, "No breed would suffer more than the other. Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds would 'equally' share in the hardships we would have to endure in the coming year".

Since then, this is what actually happened……

In 2007, the thoroughbreds got all the prime race dates at Stampede Park and Northlands Park. The Standardbreds got what was left, spring and fall at Northlands Park. They were sent to the new track being built in Grande Prairie for their summer meet. When the horsemen arrived at Evergreen Park they found the facility under construction. Next to no advertising done to let the locals know the horses were in town. The stands were empty. The video simulcast was done by some local kids, who did their best. The racetrack although good when they arrived, became unsafe and dangerous within days. Horses were reportedly falling off the side of the track, so it was decided that it be best if they didn't race 7 horses wide across the track, better to race 6 or less.

Needless to say several horses suffered injuries and several were put down. Many trainers and owners swore they would never return, they did their time and were looking forward to the New Year, and the new Balzac Racetrack. During this time, several trainers, owners and breeders from the Calgary area were getting out of the industry as they could no longer watch or bet on their horses locally. They would have to drive 3 hours north to Edmonton or watch them on television.

Late 2007, more bad news, if you had invested in the Standardbred Industry. The 2008 race dates were announced by HRA and as usual, the thoroughbreds again were awarded the prime summer months at Northlands Park and HRA struck a deal with Stampede Park handing over 9 million dollars to reopen their track so the thoroughbreds would not be inconvenienced. Again, the Standardbreds were awarded spring and fall dates at Northlands Park and sent back to Grande Prairie for their summer meet, (B Meet only, as the track is not suitable to host an A meet).

Also there is no simulcast as HRA has budget concerns. This means the only way to watch or bet on a Standarbred race horse in Alberta, is to drive to Grande Prairie, 6 hours north of Edmonton. The harness horses are left with no summer meet to hold their stake races, all of the stake races must be held in early spring or late fall, otherwise known as the winter months in Alberta.

2008, God help us, even more bad news, the new Balzac Racetrack will not be ready until 2010, at the earliest, if at all. If that wasn't devastating enough, within weeks Northlands Park makes an announcement, they have negotiated with HBPA (Thoroughbreds) to sign a 3 year racing contract apparently without the involvement of Horse Race Alberta (HRA), who is actually the governing body that is responsible for promoting horse racing and negotiating on behalf of both breeds. They are also responsible for giving race tracks licenses for racing.

Well, after 'hanging in there' and 'staying the course', throughout the last 3 years and facing yet another 'transition year' for the next 3 years or so, many people are facing financial difficulties. Their stock, once worth some money, is now worthless and the futures for the young horses in the fields and in the barns are a major concern.

Yes, our handle is down, as well it should be, when you consider all the help we've received. It's somewhat irresponsible and extremely arrogant that certain people involved in Horse Racing would even feel the need to point out the obvious. Northlands Park spends thousands of dollars on promotions for thoroughbred races. Last year, not unlike any other year, The Belmont Stake, (thoroughbred) was simulcast from another track, all kinds of promotional material was available for sale for race fans. The Western Canada Pacing Derby which was running 'live' right out their front window on the same day had nothing available for participants or fans. This has been an on going issue for our sport, little or no promotions, or advertising. Last year, HRA cut 2 aired stake races featuring standardbreds, apparently finances was the main factor. At the same time, or very close to it, they increased the thoroughbred races from 2 one hour shows to two 2 hour shows and they promoted them.

We understand the thoroughbreds are struggling and their handle is down, we can relate. Yet they have not faced a fraction, if any of the hardships the Standardbreds have faced and their sport is supported and promoted aggressively by HRA and Northlands Park.

Owners who invested in yearlings, have spent thousands of dollars in training to prepare them for racing are left with Alberta breds with no place to race. Three years ago our yearling sale averaged over $8,500 per yearling, a year before that, more than $11,000 per yearling. Today, Breeders are 'giving them away', at a time when our horses are breaking stake and track records, it's unacceptable. We have lost many owners, trainers and drivers to Ontario and B.C. others left for Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We have taken substantial cuts in purse money to keep harness racing here in Alberta. Additional cuts due to the lost slot revenue from Stampede Park and we face further cuts as our performance measures are unattainable.

As you can see, there is a very warped view on what the word 'equal' actually means when it comes to Horse Racing in Alberta. Both breeds have not equally shared in the hardship; the Standardbreds have carried it all.

I hope this letter encourages those people who are in a position to help support our breed, to get involved and help if you can. I believe at this time, Directors positions are available on the HRA Board. If you are someone who knows the true meaning of 'equal' and can help level the playing field for both breeds to succeed; we hope you let them know who you are. If you are 'still hanging in there', let your voice be heard, make some calls, write some letters. If you are a harness racing fan we hope to see you at the rail, in the future.

We Appreciate Your Support!

Mona Hill
Breeder, Owner & Fan
Spruce Grove, Alberta.

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