The End Of Newfoundland Horse Racing
Published: February 25, 2013 6:41 pm ET
Last Comment: February 26, 2013 6:42 am ET | 4 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments
After 50 years of harness racing in Newfoundland, a series of issues, most notably the government’s lack of support, and new taxation policies, have forced the once proud racing tradition in the province to come to a sad end.
According to both Keith Gowan, president of the Newfoundland Harness Horse Owners Association, and Brett Whelan, manager of St. John’s Racing and Entertainment Centre, time is up, and the sport will cease to exist in the province.
“We held a meeting on Sunday afternoon and 90% of horsemen voted that we can not continue given the finances available,” said Gowan. “It looks like harness racing is done in the province.”
Because there is currently no financial support from the government in Newfoundland, Gowan said that the finances involved in racing no longer make sense.
“We put $300,000 to $400,000 into our horses and training to put a product on the track and the most we’ve ever made here in purses was $100,000,” he said. “It’s always been for a love of the sport. What is projected for this entire year is a total purse pool of less than $15,000. A lot of that is based on the downturn in simulcast betting related to what is happening in Ontario. It really squeezes on the guy on the bottom rung, and we’re on the bottom rung.”
Whelan also spoke about the financial struggles.
“We’re the only track with no government support or funding,” he said. “With decreased wagering, increased fees, and a new tax implemented by the government, there’s not enough money for either side. We spent the last four months working with the government but there’s no way to make it work for either us or the horsepeople.”
Gowan says that the horseperson’s group will continue to work with the racetrack and politicians to see if there is any long-term hope, but for now, the discussion has turned to the consequences.
“People are now contemplating moving their horses from here to the mainland but realistically this is the last stop for horses,” he said. “It is sad because this will kill our breeding program that we got up and running the last few years. Everybody is disappointed.”
According to Gowan, economic impact studies have demonstrated that the horse racing industry in Newfoundland contributes $750,000 to $1 million to the local economy, but government has been generally unwilling to be part of the solution.
“We race because of a passion for the sport. It’s never been about the money,” he said. “But at this point, as wagering drops, there is nowhere for us to turn. There are no negotiations planned.”
Whelan says that while racing will cease, the facility will continue to operate.
“We have five VLTs, like every bar in Newfoundland,” he said. “We’ll keep the stabling area open. We also rent the facility out for functions and we’re booked up for the next two months. We tried our best but there’s not much at this point that we can do.”
(Trot Insider exclusive by Darryl Kaplan)