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All Tracks Matter

The View

I have had the pleasure of visiting the majority of standardbred racetracks across Canada. From Newfoundland to British Columbia, every one has made an impression on me. They are not all palaces, but the character and history in each grandstand and on every backstretch is unique and extremely special.

I’ve also been to many facilities weeks and months before they’ve closed their doors. Belleville, Montreal, Sudbury, Aylmer, Windsor, Quebec City, Alberta Downs. The list is too long.Lives progress, our industry evolves, and we adapt accordingly. One door closes and another hopefully opens. I can accept that.

However, the idea that attrition strengthens harness racing is a notion that I struggle with.

Yes, I will acknowledge that if purses are allocated across fewer races and fewer tracks, then racing horses at those remaining facilities could become more cost effective. I also acknowledge that racing at more tracks increases the overhead costs the industry must absorb.

But whether it’s losing racing in St. John’s or Edmonton or Sarnia, the undeniable result is that we will lose customers. It is a certainty.

Those parents who come to the track with their young kids on a Sunday afternoon are not going to head to a simulcast outlet - they are lost. Those retirees who bring their grandchildren to the races, and have been doing so for a decade, are not going to bet online - they are lost. Those college kids who are brought out to the local track for a bit of fun on a quiet Thursday evening, are not going to haul three hours to the closest town with a racetrack – they are lost.

We have many responsibilities in this industry, and one of them is to cultivate future racing enthusiasts across this country of ours. The solutions are different in every jurisdiction and no broad brush approach can be taken that will help racing in all 10 provinces. But creative thinking and co-operation can go a long way.

In Ontario, tracks like Leamington, Hiawatha and Dresden - that have all been recently talked about in discussions about viability, are examples of facilities that still draw good local crowds. Many of us have stood trackside and been impressed at the number of families and area residents that still enjoy these weekly traditions. Can we afford to lose that?

With the newly formed Ontario Racing Association, there is an opportunity. It’s a chance to harness our willing tracks to become powerful forces in selling the racing product. Short, strong, festival-like meets, supported by good purses, co-ordinated on-track entertainment, and centrally managed simulcast signals – are now achievable.

As horse population becomes an increasing concern, we may need to move larger purse pools into a smaller number of races. Ownership viability is an issue that must be addressed. In doing so, it is possible that we may be forced to lose cards of racing, and might see the number of dates drop accordingly.

But there are ways to manage all of that and still keep tracks open – a goal that should remain near the top of our list of priorities.

Over our lifetimes, we’ve seen racetracks celebrate 50th and 100th anniversaries. Thousands of hard working builders of the sport got us to this point, and have passed the baton to the current leaders of our industry. We owe it to our predecessors to do the hard work required - to not only keep these tracks open, but to make them a success.

Darryl Kaplan
[email protected]

4 Comments

March 29, 2016 - 10:00 pmThen why not close Clinton

Then why not close Clinton and Hanover whose handle is no better than the other 3 tracks you want to close. It seems this industry likes to pick on tracks west of London. Case in point, Windsor Raceway, who was still doing a good handle but was one of the first tracks forced to remove their slots. Now all those other tracks still have the slots on site albeit with a different situation. How often do you think your horses will get in when there is a charge to go to your preferred tracks? Those tracks may not be betting tracks but they still make for a afternoon or night out just to watch live racing again in these parts. Get off your high horses and think of this industry as a whole and maybe this industry has a chance to survive.

March 28, 2016 - 10:22 pm"It also should be pointed

"It also should be pointed out that our document did provide an opportunity for harness racing events at Leamington, Sarnia and Dresden through an invigorated fair racing circuit." -Mark Beaven

Yep, and racing for the grand sum of $500 or possibly, maybe $1,000 as stated in your document. Yep, $500 is good enough for you nobodys! Not good enough for the four horsemen though. Hey the present purses at tracks like London aren't sufficient enough for us, I mean how can we survive with the bottoms going for the lowly sum of somewhere around $4000? Can anyone say "elitists"! It's not about what's best for harness racing it's about what's best for you. Kaplan's right! If you really were interested in the industry as a whole then you would be more focused on having more people see harness racing not less. Here's a novel idea, why don't we support the many fair tracks across the province instead of having them lay waste and tear down their barns and rip up their tracks? Maybe, just maybe if we had focused on say, putting our grassroots sires stakes events at these fair tracks where crowds are already attending the fairs and put on a real show we might have something. No, instead give everything to the greedy big tracks, who care for no one but themselves. If a fraction of the money that is being consumed was spent working with the fair track communities we might have something down the road. The road we are presently on is not only very short sighted it is a dead end road. I can't believe the short sightedness of people. For your info, if the purses are raised significantly in London, who do you think is going to come and get the lions share?? You've said yourselves that you can't compete with the WEG trainers... think they won't put their horses on a trailer and come to London if the purses justify it... you'd better think again!

March 28, 2016 - 5:29 pmDarryl, tell us you're

Darryl, tell us you're kidding?

March 28, 2016 - 12:19 pmDarryl, If I understand your

Mark Beaven SAID...

Darryl,

If I understand your idea correctly, instead of eliminating grassroots racing at the three tracks with the smallest handle, you are suggesting to reduce the racing opportunity across the board at all tracks. Your belief is that by eliminating grassroots racing at one track over another we would risk losing the few hundred fans that attend each of these grassroots tracks at a time we cannot afford to lose any?

While your idea could help with increasing the economic viability of our industry, unfortunately because of the handle generated by the Premier and Signature tracks compared to the grassroots tracks your idea would translate into even less racing opportunity for the entire industry in Ontario then the document proposed by myself, Horner, McNiven and Toll. It also should be pointed out that our document did provide an opportunity for harness racing events at Leamington, Sarnia and Dresden through an invigorated fair racing circuit. Our belief is that fair racing would be a more appropriate level for these locations (and other locations which currently do not have any racing opportunity). This would give the fans throughout the province greater exposure to our product.

Trust me when I say that writing our proposal and making the suggestion of ending or reducing grassroots racing at certain tracks was not an easy one. However difficult times are a time for difficult decisions. I appreciate the fact that we all want to have top level racing in as many locations as possible. But we have to keep the viability of the entire industry in mind. I’m sure a town like Leamington would also like to have a NHL Hockey Franchise as well (or even an AHL or OHL team) …..but the financial reality simply does not support it.


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