Dresden, June 25, 2014 -- Lucille Laprise says there's no better way to herald a new era at Dresden Raceway than to open the 2014 season on July 1.
"It's Canada Day, so how much better can you have it than that? We think that's a perfect fit for us," said Laprise, the president of the Dresden Agricultural Society that has taken over management of the track from Windsor Raceway's parent company, Winrac Development Inc.
This year marks the first time the agricultural society has run the track since Winrac began operating it in 1997.
"Winrac wanted out and we wanted in. So, it was a perfect fit for us at this time. We want to run the races ourselves. We're quite encouraged about doing that and we're enthusiastic," Laprise said. "This is what we want to do to try to keep racing alive and well. I feel we owe it to the generations in the past that worked so hard to put it on and make it as good as it was. We owe it to the future to bring back everything and make it good for them... It would be a real shame to let that industry die. We don't want to be part of it dying. We want to be part of it growing and flourishing."
The Dresden Agricultural Society brought in Greg Blanchard to be the track's general manager for the 11-race meet. Blanchard is the Raceway Manager at The Raceway at The Western Fair District in London.
"With Greg's help and everyone else at Western (Fair) we're going to do everything we can to bring back the Little Saratoga to what it used to be," Laprise said.
Harness racing has been conducted in Dresden for over 140 years. "This year our Dresden Exhibition is 139 years old," Laprise said. "They were racing a few years before then."
In the late-1800s, the Dresden Driving Club organized trials of speed at the track. In the early 1900s, locals gathered in the winter to watch races over the icy Sydenham River.
After the 10-race Tuesday, July 1 card, racing will be conducted at Dresden on Sunday afternoons through Labour Day, the exception being the two holiday weekends. Dresden will race on the Aug. 4 civic holiday Monday and on Labour Day Monday, Sept. 1. Post time for all 11 cards of racing will be 1 p.m.
"We felt that for this year, being newbie's in the racing ring, that 11 cards would be a good fit for us," Laprise said. "Hopefully next year we can do bigger and better."
Gary Patterson will be back calling the races, which will also be video streamed at www.dresdenraceway.ca.
"We've got great community involvement and the directors, the board, everybody is on side," Laprise said. "We've got great community support from all the other organizations, the other racetracks. They all want to see us do well. We really appreciate their support and their help and their encouragement."
Laprise said it's been a lot of work to get ready for Opening Day, but there have been a lot of people pitching in to help.
"The horsemen have been really supportive in helping us spruce up the place. A coat of paint here, cut the grass there," Laprise said. "We're just trying to clean it up and do the best we can. I know it's going to take time, but time is on our side."
Plans are in the works, Laprise said, to bring back the free corn promotion on Labour Day that was a hit 15 years ago when Tom Joy and Joe McGorisk from the Windsor crew ran the track.
In the meantime, Laprise's message to the public is: "come celebrate Canada Day with us. We'll make it worth their while. Tell people to wear their red and white, too. We're going to have a great big huge eight-foot cake we're sharing with everybody. We've got face painting and giveaways. It's really kind of like a family fun, fan appreciation day."
Those who arrive early will receive a commemorative giveaway item (while supplies last) and programs will be available for just $1. The 'Wanna Drive' team will be on hand giving rides in their double-seater jog carts and a special Mini Horse race has been planned as well.
By Dave Briggs, for Dresden Raceway