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What is progress?

The View

One of the assertions that I continue to hear from both the government and people within the horse racing industry is that there are too many racetracks. They point to crowded simulcast schedules, wagering figures and quiet grandstands as justification that a stronger industry will have fewer tracks. As far as I am concerned, the argument is complete nonsense.

Racetracks are the showplaces of all the hard work that happens at farms and training centres across the province. Friends gather, money is exchanged, and if done properly, communities rally. Like agricultural fairs, farmer’s markets and antique auctions, racetracks bring country to the city and unite us all through a form of entertainment that has 250 years of wonderful tradition in this country.

What is the benefit to the community of having Ontario`s Kingston Park Raceway closed and crumbling, BC’s Sandown Park rezoned for commercial development or Nova Scotia’s Sackville Downs torn down to the ground? Where Greenwood Raceway once stood, are you inspired by the cookie cutter homes? Will Montreal be a better place with its track replaced by a new subdivision snugly located behind the massive WalMart and the bustling Burger King? In New Hamburg, the entire community mourned when the old racetrack grandstand burned down. Video tributes and articles were written about the fact that the Canadian Pacing Derby was once held there. The Ontario town eventually rebuilt the grandstand, but with no racing, it sits empty, unused and unappreciated virtually the entire year. There are no horses at New Hamburg`s lonely facility. Just memories.

Ontario’s Finance Minister Dwight Duncan continues to falsely state that Ontario has one quarter of the racetracks in North America. According to the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities, there are 192 active racetracks in North America, meaning that Ontario actually has fewer than 9 per cent of the continent`s tracks.

While Duncan’s advisors should do two minutes of research before providing him with blatantly false information, more importantly, they should look at the global horse racing market, which shows our number of racetracks is grossly lacking. In Australia, there are 360 active tracks despite it being a nation of just 22.3 million. In France, there are 246. When related to population, Australia has 16.1 tracks per million people; New Zealand – 11.7; Ireland – 5.8; Sweden – 3.9; France – 3.8; Serbia – 3.7; Norway – 2.5. In Canada, we have 30 tracks – 0.87 per million people, and in Ontario, our industry leader, there are 1.3 tracks per million people. If we lose Fort Erie, Windsor or any other tracks in the province, we will drop well below most major horse racing jurisdictions in the world.

As for the economics, the problems we face have nothing to do with the number of tracks. We need short, powerful meets that cater to fans and bettors (see Old Home Week, Delaware County Fair, Del Mar, Keeneland, Saratoga). We need coordinated simulcasting where signals are packaged and promoted globally (see Sweden, Australia, South Africa, England). We need solid business fundamentals (see any successful sports or entertainment business in this country). And we need a government that recognizes and supports the tremendous value of this sport (see Australia, France, China).

This notion of five or six tracks surviving in Ontario is ludicrous. Racing still survives in places like Leamington, ON, Woodstock, NB, Glenboro, MB, and Isle de la Madeleine, off the coast of Quebec. It does it with virtually no funding at all. I recognize the models will have to change, but don’t let the bulldozers move in to places like Sarnia, Hanover, Woodstock, Elora and Peterborough. Once lost, they will never be rebuilt.

Whether in St. John’s, NL, Grande Prairie, AB or Clinton, ON, the racetrack is a hub of the community. It brings people together and makes us closer. It is not progress to tear down these tracks and put up fast food restaurants and super stores. It is not progress to build more heartless subdivisions with two car garages and finely manicured lawns.

I live in Toronto, minutes from the sites of both Carleton Race Track — the home of the first Queen’s Plate — and Dufferin Park Racetrack, a Toronto mainstay for decades. I visit the tracks when I’m buying toilet paper for $4.99 in the two No Frills locations that now stand where these tracks once did. There is no cheering. There are no heroes. There is no community. “They’re at the post” has been replaced by “Cleanup in aisle six.”

In this country, we have too much of virtually everything. Too much consumption. Too many massive US operated casinos. Too much rhetoric and too much hot air. But we do not have too many racetracks!

Darryl Kaplan
dkaplan@standardbredcanada.ca

4 Comments

August 19, 2012 - 4:21 pmCongratulations Darryl on

Dave Nicol SAID...

Congratulations Darryl on your latest editorial! Your facts are always well researched and written in a way even a politician would get the points from your column. Just listened to the minister of agriculture [scary] Have you ever thought about politics? How refreshing that would be for us all! However please stay doing what you do for all of us.

August 19, 2012 - 1:02 amThankyou Darryl. You have

Karen Duck SAID...

Thankyou Darryl. You have captured every reason for us not to quit fighting. Change, yes, we need to update our game but without destroying the History of it. I have a wonderfull picture of the old Hamburg Grandstand I took with our Daughter and my Husband standing in the first row dwarfed by it's enormous size shortly before it was lost to fire. We had purposely stopped on Vacation to quietly step back in time and show our daughter what it was like for those who came before us in our Racing family. She was intrigued by the tombstone nearby; "Was he famous Mom, she asked of Count B"? We told her the history of the Canadian Pacing Derby. And a few years later, on one perfect August evening at Mohawk Raceway, her very own "Joe Canadian" was invited to be the Meet and Greet horse for the Canadian Pacing Derby. Believe me, there is nothing Material that could ever replace those two memories at those two Racetracks.

August 18, 2012 - 11:48 pmEvidently Dwight Duncan's

Evidently Dwight Duncan's math skills are very poor. His estimates on home many people are employed in Ontario horse racing are way off, as are his figures for the percentage of North American racetracks that exist in Ontario. Or could it be that he is a liar and is involved in corrupt dealings that stand to put thousands of Ontario horse racing and agriculture workers out of work. Either way, why the h*ll are people putting up with this ?

August 18, 2012 - 8:36 pmDarryl - with a voice as

Darryl - with a voice as eloquent as yours, it's possible to imagine a future. I'll be so bold as to add Connaught Park/Hippodrome d'Aylmer to your list. Cookie-cut subdivision built on the grave of a once vibrant and historic track. As you certainly know, it's not all about quick flips for short term profit, or shouldn't be. The destruction of livelihood, history, tradition... a whole way of life is being annihilated to accommodate the whims of our supposed representative's backers. We live in a plutocracy, told what's good for us, lied to at every turn, and fed more lies to justify the ripping out of our very souls a bit a a time. I long for the day when "enough is enough" is finally said loudly, and people see politicians for what they really are... and I have zero ill will towards the honest ones that ply that trade.


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