Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Sad State of Canadian Racing Pt.1: The West

2013 is going to be a very interesting year in the racing world. We get to watch the Road to the Kentucky Derby with the brand new points system and see Stronach try and get year-round racing at Gulfstream. We get to watch Hollywood Park for what will likely be the last time. It's going to be fun to see some big industry changes.
     Up here in Canada, racing isn't at it's strongest. 2013 will test industry leaders and see if this game can survive on it's ability to support itself. 
     This post is about the current state of affairs in the Western Provinces. Ontario needs it's own full post, which I'll put up either tomorrow or on Monday. Anyway, let's begin.
     British Columbia is a place where things look good. In 2012 Hastings Park and Great Canadian Gaming lowered takeout on a few of their bets, got in with Twin Spires, and it worked out. Handle went up by 5% from 2011. It was a successful meet. The B.C. horsemen began shipping their horses into the Hastings backstretch and they're ready to get rolling.
     Next up, it's time to take a look at Alberta. Racing there has been troubled ever since Stampede Park in Calgary ended in 2008. Previously, Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds alternated between Northlands Park and the Stampede. Then, after Stampede ended, Northlands decided to race Thoroughbreds in the summer and give the Harness people the winter dates. There was a harness meet in Grande Prairie in 2009, but that was unsuccessful, and Alberta Downs in Lacombe opened up to take over the summer harness meet. But without the Calgary market, racing has shrunk in Alberta. For years a planned racetrack in Balzac, a small town very close to Calgary, was stalled. It finally looks as though the Balzac track will be built, as Century Casinos announced they would put up the funding to help build a 5 1/2 furlong track for Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and Harness racing. Until that happens though, and it very well could be stalled again, racing in Alberta will continue to be divided for dates, and will be standing on the one leg it's been balancing on since 2009.
     Now we move onto Saskatchewan. To be honest the 'industry' there can hardly be called an industry. Thoroughbreds race in Saskatoon at Marquis Downs for rock bottom purses for a few months in the summer, and then most of them are brought back to the farm until next meet. Same deal for the harness people, although they race at West Meadows in Regina and at the Yorkton Exhibition. In 2012, the Saskatchewan Government announced they ending the subsidy they give to racing. Unlike in other provinces, Saskatchewan racing is given an ACTUAL subsidy. Marquis Downs, however, did something smart in response to this. They respectfully asked the Government to stop taxing wagers placed in the Province. And the Government agreed. The problem; the racetracks still won't get enough money. Purses will dwindle to even more ridiculous lows then they already are, and the 6-horse fields will become 4 or 5 horse fields instead.
     Now we need to discuss Manitoba and Assiniboia Downs. ASD is where my dad began his training career in 1977 before coming to Ontario in 1990, so this place is important to me. Last year, ASD had it tough. Average field size at the Downs was only 6.9, and even though they lowered their Pick 4 takeout from 29% to a low 15%, the ridiculous takeouts on other bets as well as the small fields led to an 8% drop in overall handle. To make matters worse, it was revealed this week that the Government of Manitoba is likely to reduce the size of the racing's grant from the Downs' slot machines. Not good news for a track with poor purses and small handles. There's also talk of ASD being taken over by the Red River Exhibition Association, who want to make the Downs an entertainment facility, and also want to reintroduce Harness racing. Harness racing in Manitoba consists of a fair circuit in small towns that no one has ever heard of. If it ever wants to become notable, it needs a city venue, and the RREA thinks ASD is the place. Harness racing at Assiniboia has been tried more than once, and it's yet to be successful, but the RREA wants to try it. More racing costs more money, and Assiniboia can't afford it. Hopefully ASD can figure something out, but the future is unclear. 
     So that's racing in the West. It's not pretty looking, but nothing in this game usually is. Like I said earlier, I'm going to make a post about Ontario tomorrow or on Monday, because this post is long enough as it is. 

P.S. yesterday in my post about Los Al's possible expansion, I said the planned expansion was to have a 1 mile track. That's incorrect. The plan calls for a 7 furlong and 190 feet track. 

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