Small Town Horse Racing Is Coming To An End

(File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / cafaphotos)

The Ontario Horse Harness Association (OHHA) says small horse tracks like Dresden and Leamington have their days numbered.

OHHA General Manager Brian Tropea gives them about three years before they close because of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) revenue loss and an insufficient funding model.

Tropea says a pending long-term funding deal with the OLG and the private, for-profit Woodbine Entertainment Group could be the final nail in the coffin for Dresden and Leamington because it shifts money to bigger race tracks.

“If you have a race track like Western Fair that wants to add more race days or Grand River Raceway or Flamboro Downs. There’s a number of them that probably want to add race days and they can only add them if they cut them from somewhere else,” says Tropea.

Tropea says Dresden Raceway will have a tougher time supporting horse racing in the future because it’s losing slots revenue when the machines move to the Chatham casino next summer.

Tropea says racetracks will continue to be individually funded by the OLG if the new deal is not signed but even then, he says, that won’t save smaller raceways because they won’t have enough money to maintain operations in the future.

He says horse people and the smaller race tracks were not consulted about the new agreement and it was sprung on them just two weeks ago.

A decision must be made by Tuesday.

Tropea says there’s no way the local horse industry can survive or thrive with the current level of funding.

“That entire end of the province between Hiawatha, Dresden and Leamington, they only have 45 days of racing in that whole end of the province over the course of the year and they’re capped at $35,000 a day in allocated purse money,” he says.

Tropea says high-level racing is very expensive and that will deter investment and development.

“If we have a fixed amount of money, all those people getting a pay cheque that work for racetracks are going to get cost of living increases and if those increases are applied, that money has to come from somewhere. There’s only one pot of money so it reduces the amount available to maintain the employees that you have,” Tropea says.