Day At The Track

Kawartha Downs to offer an 18 date season

02:46 PM 13 May 2018 NZST
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Kawartha Downs general manager Orazio Valence
Kawartha Downs general manager Orazio Valence, middle, greets supporters after Kawartha Downs hosted a meeting with its horse people to determine if there will be a 2018 race season on Saturday May 12, 2018 at Kawartha Downs in Fraserville, Ont. Valence a
Clifford Skarstedt/Examiner Photo

Kawartha Downs will run an 18-date harness racing schedule in 2018 but beyond that there is only uncertainty.

Orazio Valente, general manager of the Fraserville track, agreed to open the track after a two-hour meeting with area horse people on Saturday afternoon. The season will begin on May 26 and run for 18 consecutive Saturday nights beginning at 7 p.m.

"We have decided to race for this season," said Valente at a press conference following the meeting. "I have the full commitment of the local community that we will make this year the best year ever despite all the difficulties and financial shortcomings that come with it."

The track has one year left on a $1,062,000 annual agreement with the province to fund purses and operating costs. Kawartha has no agreement with the province after Shorelines Slots leaves for a new casino in Peterborough this fall.

Last week, the province finalized a 19-year funding agreement with 12 of 15 Ontario tracks. KD is one of the three not to sign as Valente says it doesn't cover expenses involved in maintaining facility currently covered by its casino lease.

The track, which had the second highest live handle among Ontario harness tracks, applied for 40 race dates to generate more income opportunities but was granted 18, the same as 2017.

Valente says it would take an additional $1 million to $2 million to make the facility viable. He wanted guarantees from the province on how they'd make up the shortfall before the writ was dropped last week on a June 7 election. He said he got none.

A second issue for KD, Valente said, is Great Canadian Gaming appears unwilling to hire KD's 150 casino employees for the new casino.

"I know there are a lot of news reports saying the new casino will bring up to 150 jobs with it. The part that gets lost in the news media is that there are 150 jobs here at Kawartha that will be lost," he said. "I ask Great Canadian Gaming to reconsider."

Valente said he was told the 19-year deal would only proceed if all 15 tracks agreed to it. Now it's going ahead with 12.

"Kawartha Downs and all the tracks which did not sign have become non-member tracks," said Valente. "The language inserted into this agreement is such that it becomes next to impossible for non-member tracks to exist in the long term."

Non-member tracks are not privy to an additional $5 million for three years to assist tracks losing their casinos, to enhance purses or fund capital projects. Non-member tracks have until April 2019 to sign on.

Valente said the track's only hope is for a change in government.

"There is no future for horse racing at Kawartha Downs under a Liberal government," he said.

The Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA), which represents local horse people, also refused to sign the agreement.

OHHA general manager Brian Tropea said the province relied on the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) for industry input on the agreement and didn't consult grassroots tracks. The result is a deal that doesn't work for three of Ontario's four regional tracks and their horse people.

He said the province will earn more than $1 billion annually from a casino at Woodbine. He's disappointed they couldn't find an additional $1 million to assist Kawartha Downs.

"We're terribly disappointed in how the Liberal government has handled this thing from start to finish," said Tropea. "I'm more disappointed in the people who purport to represent horse people that signed off on a long-term agreement that doesn't do anything for the horse people. It handcuffs the industry and restricts any opportunity for growth."

Tropea said most of the tracks that signed are part of a WEG alliance. The three that did not aren't affiliated with WEG.

"They're giving us enough to cover our basic costs of racing but they're not looking at all the infrastructure costs that keep this place open. Anybody who signed that deal either didn't read it or didn't understand it or didn't seek legal opinion on it."

Reprinted with parmission of The Peterborough Examiner

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