Anyone from southwestern Ontario knows what I’m talking about when I preach of Dresden Raceway‘s charm. It may not have a shiny new paddock or a fancy clubhouse but best believe it has character. Whether it's the sand track out back that you can always count on for that hot trotter to get his warm up in, the vehicles lined up around the outside fence taking in the day, the familiar faces around the paddock or the friendly, relaxed atmosphere, there’s no place like Dresden.
Much of the younger generation like myself, have learned many a lesson and spent many a sweltering day in its backstretch. However, unlike many others in our province, many of our parents and grand parents have also spent their younger days in the very same backstretch. My father for example spent his summer vacations rooming in a trailer (that still stands) across the road from the racetrack with both his older brother and my great Uncle.
Dresden Raceway’s weekly cards usually offer a couple of top classes, some cheaper classes and classes geared towards youngsters just getting started. Top trainers such as hall of famer Bob McIntosh have used the half-mile oval to start future champions as well as compete in Ontario Sires Stakes events for years.
From May to September, Sunday afternoons are synonymous with Dresden. One day that I have rarely ever missed on the schedule, every year, is Labour Day. Even if we didn’t get anything in to race that Monday, my family and I often spent the last day of summer vacation freedom on the tailgate of our truck catching the last card of the season with our fellow horsemen and racing fans.
This past Labour Day was a somber one. It was with heavy hearts that my father and I raced my mare, Callmeinthemorning, a three time winner at Dresden last year. Suiting that she was our Labour Day entry, as its her favorite track as well. We soaked in each and every moment of the day, for fear of never returning again. Never again seeing Jenny hustling up to place her $2 on a hunch. Never again seeing the ladies running the grill up front. Never again sharing a cold beer with friends and grazing your horse after the race. Never again seeing the cars lined up along the outside rail. Never again hearing Gary Patterson call the stretch drive. Never again having our picture taken in that historic winners circle. Never again stopping for celebratory ice cream in Kent Bridge. Years of traditions facing unnecessary endings. We took our time cooling the mare out after a game 3rd place finish and were one of the last to leave that day. Tears streamed down my face as we pulled out the lane and I silently prayed to be back again in 2013.
In the Tom Joy days, Dresden Raceway Sundays really were the place to be for family fun. Pony rides, face painting, slip n slides, petting zoos, clowns putting on balloon animal clinics, you name it. All you can eat corn on the cob, wicked barbecues, free programs were among some of the little incentives to fill the stands, and fill them they did. I can remember worrying about finding an open group of seats or picnic table to sit and watch the races with my grandparents before I was old enough to help in the paddock.
Since Mr Joy’s passing however, the little track received new management and it has certainly seen better days. Zero money and zero effort have been put into maintaining the facilities, both in the grandstand as well as the backstretch. The bare minimum to get through the season, that’s all it has received. It’s certainly disturbing for all of us who remember the good ‘ol days and who are aware of how little an effort would be required in order to get the facility back up to par. Volunteers and some elbow grease could make a big difference, but first we need to regain control of our track.
With the SARP program coming to an end on March 31st 2013, the future of Dresden Raceway is a giant question mark. The current management of the track have shown very little interest in horse racing since taking over this track along with Windsor Raceway, which after many decades of history will never open its doors again, and Woodstock Raceway who’s future looks just as bleak. As horsemen, our worlds have been turned upside down the last year. Our futures have gone from bright and optimistic to dark and non existent. Our new Premier, Kathleen Wynne, has proposed a small band aid of help offering to subsidize four B tracks for the 2013 racing season. With no mention of what kind of budget these four will operate with, therefore leaving us uncertain of what our purse structures will be like TWO WEEKS FROM NOW. From 15 B tracks to 4. Its a step in the right direction, yes, but is our industry saved? Not even close.
Politicians have preached the word “accountability” to us relentlessly since the Transitional Panel was formed to investigate the decision to end the program (AFTER the decision had already been set in stone of course). This concept is nothing new to us horsemen in southwestern Ontario. As our tracks made more and more money, the conditions of the facilities got worse and worse..and with absolutely no consequence to the powers that be. It's not our fault these owners ran our tracks into the ground, milked them for all they were worth and put forth an embarrassingly limited effort to attract patrons. Do they honestly think we enjoyed seeing our home tracks fall to pieces before our eyes, getting worse and worse each and every year? Do they think we enjoyed sending our partners, owners and their families to the stands to watch their racehorses compete in grandstands that not only reeked of urine but could barely provide them with a meal? It was an absolute embarrassment.
Nevertheless, the times they are a changing.
We can either continue to resist the inevitable changes ahead or we can find a way to persist and create a viable future.
“THE SECRET OF CHANGE IS TO FOCUS ALL OF YOUR ENERGY, NOT ON FIGHTING THE OLD, BUT ON BUILDING THE NEW – Socrates”
I believe it's high time we take the power back. As horsemen, we would have no problem with the panel’s mandatory accountability. We want to put on a great show, we want to bring in new patrons, we want a facility we can take pride in, bring our owners and families to without hesitation. As it stands today, racing will not take place at Dresden, Windsor, Sarnia or Woodstock in 2013. That's a drastic change for all of us. Why not try to save one of them? We have all agreed that as the party most directly affected by these drastic decisions, we know whats in our best interest ahead of those currently planning our futures. Why not take the bull by the horn and use this track as an example. The current management at Dresden Raceway does not own the facility, its a lease agreement that isn’t up for at least a few years yet. With its complete lack of interest in our beloved sport, why not approach them about surrendering the racing facilities back to the horsemen and the agricultural society? Whats the worst they’ll say? No? Where there's a will, there's a way. Call me a dreamer, but after their lack of contribution to all three locations and blatant disregard for the future of our industry, it's the least they could do.
Facts on Dresden Raceway:
-Racing has deep roots in the area
-In operation for 124 years
-Quality half mile oval
-On site stabling
-Records Attendance – 4,038 September 4, 2000
-Estimated 800-1000 jobs affected
http://eedition.sarniathisweek.com/doc/Sarnia-This-Week/sarniathisweek/…; Full Story on Management & Figures
http://www.wallaceburgcourierpress.com/2013/03/12/hundreds-of-jobs-coul… Hundreds Of Jobs Could Be Lost At Dresden Raceway