News comes in a blistering letter from Robert Burgess to the Premier/Agricultural, Finance, and Rural Affairs Ministers of Ontario that the government is planning on offering $10 million in purse enhancements to be split between the non-WEG tracks in the province. This will lead to the death of racing in the province, despite Woodbine and Mohawk continuing to race.
As Burgess indicated, offering $10 million to the whole province is an insult, after all $10 million is what purses at Western Fair District received from slots last year. The government in effect wants to split what Western Fair received last year between Western Fair, Georgian Downs, Grand River, Hanover, Rideau Carleton, Flamboro Downs, Clinton, Dreseden, Hiawatha Horse Park, Kawartha Downs, Sudbury, Woodstock and presumably Fort Erie (thoroughbred) and Ajax Downs (quarter horses)? Obviously not all these tracks will remain open after March 31 but even if five of these tracks remain open, what are horsemen going to be racing for? Gas cards and a bag of oats with carrots thrown in for stakes races?
It's a good thing Woodbine Entertainment has announced a policy stating if any horse previously stabled in the province is sent to slaughter, the owner and/or trainer will be denied stabling at its tracks. However, the policy statement suggests owners who will no longer be able to support their horses or get them into horse rescues strongly consider euthanasia. It would be nice if the policy indicated entries would be denied from people sending horses to slaughter, but the reality is if the policy was such, WEG would likely be unable to get enough entries for their racing cards come April 1.
Burgess demands SARP remain in effect and suggests horsemen will not allow slot parlors remain open if horsemen lose their 10% share of slot revenue. Now, not being from Canada, I don't know how horsemen will be able to effect the closure of the slot parlors with the racetracks signing rental agreements with the OLG. At best they can picket, hoping people turn away but how the authorities would react to picket lines remains to be seen.
SARP unfortunately is dead, and unlikely to return, but to transition the industry with a mere $10 million for the B and C tracks for the balance of 2013 is patently unfair, especially since the provincial government has led the horsemen on for almost a year. A true transition means slowly cutting the payments to the horse industry, not choking them to death. I would suggest horsemen be given at least 75% of the revenue they received last year for purses, with purses then dropping the following year to a lower percentage.
However, Ontario's tragedy can be an advantage for American racing. It is no secret there is a horse shortage in the United States for racing, especially as the industry wakes up from its winter doldrums and additional tracks open. There should be a concerted effort by American tracks to recruit owners to send their horses to the United States to race instead of sending them to slaughter. Granted, some of the horses racing at the 'B' and 'C' tracks of Ontario may not be the caliber some tracks would like to see, but as we have learned, gamblers rather watch and wager on competitive races than uncompetitive top quality races. This would be a win-win situation. Horses are not sent to slaughter and American tracks are ensured full fields their entire racing season. Obviously the American market can't accept all the horses at risk, but a significant number can still be saved.
Some may feel until the Ontario situation resolves itself, recruiting horsemen and horses from Ontario may be equated to picking over Ontario's remains before the corpse is dead. While the final chapter remains to be written, it seems certain the Ontario racing corpse will be on life support at best.
It is now clear Ontario has far too many horses for the industry can't support and America has too little. Perhaps some good can come out of this tragedy. At a minimum, if not encouraging Canadian owners to head south, those desiring to ship to America should be welcomed.