Day At The Track

Dresden Raceway given five-year reprieve

07:35 AM 22 Mar 2016 NZDT
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There has been horse racing for over 140 years in Dresden and it appears that it will continue for at least another five years. After a few years of uncertainty, the Dresden Raceway received news from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) that they will be hosting harness racing for at least the next five years.

The news, which was first announced on Dresden Raceway's Facebook page last week, is a relief to all of those who rely on the harness-racing track for jobs and as a source of income.

Gary Paterson, who handles public relations for the Dresden Raceway, said the news is welcome because it gives the track some stability.

“When you're going year-to-year you don't know, and it's kind of scary not knowing what's going to happen in the next year,” Patterson said, adding that the OLG said they want to create a little stability for Dresden.

“The plan is to keep things as they are or better,” Patterson said.

The plan for the smaller tracks, such as Dresden and Leamington, is to help them become sustainable, Patterson notes, as the OLG will assist with direction, ideas and marketing.

“They (OLG) want to make horse racing—not just harness-racing—a sustainable product. They are putting the onus on the tracks to get better at marketing in bringing the patrons in and bringing the on-track handle up.”

The Dresden Ag. Society has worked hard the past two years to try and recapture the vibrant heydays of the 1970s and 1980s, when the Dresden grandstand was full, Patterson said.

While Dresden Raceway has seen some positive developments over the past two years, as the Dresden Agriculture Society has taken over the operations of the track, the future was still tenuous up until last week's announcement.

The past few years have been a struggle for Dresden Raceway, as well as other tracks in the province.

Ontario's horse racing industry was thrown into turmoil when the Ontario government moved in 2012 to end a program that shared revenue from slot machines with horse owners, host communities and racetracks.

Just last month, four London-area horsepeople authored a 12-page proposal aimed at improving the harness horse industry that included a call to close the Dresden track along with Hiawatha Horse Park in Sarnia and the Leamington race track. The proposal focuses on increasing race dates at other tracks as well as finding a way to raise purses.

Last year the Ontario Racing Commission waited until just a few weeks before opening day in May to approve the 2015 racing season at Dresden, as the Ag. Society experienced financial and governance issues that had to be worked out.

Eleven dates have been approved for the upcoming season at the Dresden Raceway, with racing expected to start at the end of May. Patterson said they've applied for a couple of additional dates as well and are awaiting word if they will be approved.

By David Gough, Postmedia Network

Reprinted with permission of Wallaceburg Courier Press

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