Day At The Track

Kawartha Downs Director talks of closure

10:51 AM 13 Mar 2013 NZDT
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The public enjoying racing at Kawartha
Kawartha Downs and Speedway is no more
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The Director of harness racing at Kawartha Downs is not looking forward to Saturday March 30. Krystal O'Brien knows that is the day when livelihoods will be lost or harness racing employees will be forced to look at transferring to other racing jurisdictions.

After 40 years the five-eighth mile track at Fraserville, Ontario – 10km south-west of Peterborough – will cease to operate.

Last June track management was told that without alternative funding the track would close. Track owner Harvey ‘Skip’ Ambrose said a deal could not be reached with the OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs).

“We are not able to meet those terms. At this point there’s no transition funding that can be secured. My goal since I’ve been in charge at Kawartha Downs has always been to race horses as long as we can and, sad to say, ‘as long as we can’ is coming to an end,” said Ambrose, who took over in 1988.”

O’Brien has been with the racetrack for 20 years. She said the alternative funding offer just wouldn’t work and the track was left with no option but to close down.

“Even though we have seen the writing on the wall for some time now it has been awful watching all of this unfold. Four decades of harness racing history will evaporate in a couple of weeks.

“Not only that but 100 jobs will also be lost and that’s not counting the trainers and drivers who have to look for alternative work as well,” O’Brien told Harnesslink.

She said a skeleton staff comprising accounting, security, and maintenance personnel would be kept on.

“There will be some sad stories ahead. If people don’t leave the industry they will leave the region. I would love to remain here but I am not that naive to do so.

“It all came down to simple business and it quite simply was no sustainable to carry on. Mr Ambrose did all he could,” O’Brien said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Jim Huck of the Kawartha Race-day Office.

“There is just no way can we continue to open our doors so long after what the Government has offered us. Sadly we won’t be racing after March 30,” he said.

Meanwhile a rally has been planned at Kawartha Downs this Thursday afternoon.

The ‘No Casino in The City’ organisation will join members of Common Causes Peterborough and the horse-racing community to maintain the current gaming facility as it is.

“We want the racing to continue as well," said organiser, Rosemary McConkey.

The announcement of the closure was made on Monday of this week.

“Many other tracks have accepted deals and we expect more will sign on,” says Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal.

“For reasons I don’t know at this time, it (the deal) was rejected. The panel was willing to entertain a counter-offer. I guess what I’m most disappointed about is the fact that the panel also asked if they had a counter-offer,” Leal added.

Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs critic Ernie Hardeman said:

“It’s obvious we don’t know what they were rejecting and what they were offering. Everything is hidden here and that’s not a way to do business.”

By Duane RANGER (editor)

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