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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Canary Called Quebec

In a warning which should be heeded by the standardbred industry in the United States, it appears harness racing is done in the province of Quebec. Attractions Hippiques, the operator of the only operating standardbred racetrack in Quebec (Sulky Quebec) has suspended live racing after this past Sunday's card, and indicated unless they can quickly get some additional funding, they will close up and liquidate. All the racetracks in Quebec (including Hippodrome de Montreal) were operated by Attractions Hippiques which filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and only Sulky Quebec remained active for live racing. Last month, the operator issued their reorganization plan which depended on the provincial government continuing to provide financial support. However, the provincial government has finally said 'enough' and will no longer provide the track operator any financial support. As a result, the government plans to suspend making VLT payments to the track operator.

That's right. These tracks had VLTs. The government finally decided time has run out on standardbred racing and is discontinuing VLT payments to the track operators (the operators were also asking for additional assistance). The provincial government has determined, harness racing is no longer viable and the only assistance the industry will get is an aid package for breeders to allow them to get out of the industry in an orderly manner.

The canary has died (pardon the coal mine reference). This should serve notice to all involved in racing that VLT support for racetracks occurs at the pleasure of the government. For sure, VLTs were introduced at racetracks to support the horse race industry (all breeds) as well as help states balance their budgets. However, as governments continue to have budget issues, they will, if not now, be looking to see if horse racing interests have used this VLT revenue to rebuild their industry and determine if subsidizing racing continues to be a good investment. The measure of success will be increased wagering and more people in the stands; not horses racing for large purses in front of empty grandstands where the wagering handle will only cover 5% of the purse account. Unless racing reinvents itself, it is just a question of when, like Quebec, the government will say 'enough'.

For Quebec, all appears lost. However, all the stakeholders in racing elsewhere should take heed of the canary and try to save themselves by working on reinventing the sport to make it more relevant. Otherwise, other states and provinces will join Quebec.

Wednesday's race card at The Red Mile features three divisions of the International Stallion Stakes for 2yo pacing fillies. The first division (third race) features Higher And Higher as my favorite to win the race as she won her Bluegrass split last week with a :26.2 final quarter. Artcam is my second pick with her third place finish last week. One Last Kiss raced a credible third place finish in her first start back and is eligible to improve. Cool Jazz completes the superfacta.

Put On A Show is the odds-on favorite in the second division (seventh race). This undefeated filly was parked out in her last race and should be able to repeat. Skinny Dip finished second in her first effort over the mile oval; should improve. You See L A finally seems to have hit her stride; runs into a tough competitor here. Say So bombed in her last start. This does not appear to be the spot to bounce back.

The final split (ninth race) is perhaps the most competitive of the three. Siri Hanover looks to improve off her first start at Lexington and with a better trip can win. Casino Nights has been racing well; can challenge top selection. Western Moonlight has tailed off. Has back class to be a factor here despite the post. Wenditions is lightly raced but improving. May be the upset choice of the three splits.

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