As the standardbred industry fights back on the concerted Liberal campaign to maim or even destroy it, what more appropriate time than now to remember the late Tom Joy and how he met the challenges to his harness racing track over 15 years ago.
When Tom Joy first came to Windsor as the track's new owner, the area was mired in recession. The glory days of Windsor Raceway were much in the past as handle and attendance plummeted from the days when winter racing was first introduced. Everyone was a race fan then. Windsor was the talk of the industry with its revolutionary tartan track. Its 5/8 length meant horses were travelling the border oval faster than ever.
Founded by Elmwood Casino owner Al Siegel, Windsor drew heavily from both sides of the border. For myself, I'll always remember my first Provincial Cup won by the Australian bred Cardigan Bay driven by Stanley Dancer. The Canadian Club dining room on the track's third floor was one of Windsor's favourite spots with famed chef Hans Bueshkens in charge.
The track was open from October through March, then gave way to Wolverine. But the catalyst was always Windsor. After a few years, ownership changed to the Levesque family who were already in the business by virtue of owning Blue Bonnet Raceway in Montreal. An attempt to follow the harness season in the early 70's with thoroughbred action just didn't go and was dropped after one meet.
Enter Tom Joy, businessman, entrepreneur, a man you just couldn't say no too. Its been said that Joy did more for Windsor than many who had lived here all their lives. He tried hockey great John Ferguson for a year as manager, but when that didn't work, he took the reins himself. He had a number of great years, but then everything was threatened when the province decided to put a permanent casino in downtown Windsor.
Joy had done much to enhance his product and added simulcast wagering from tracks across North America. Said Joy "We're going to end up with what my dream was, that the only way to compete in this business long term was to have a complete gaming entertainment centre." Thus was born the plan for Windsor to host slot machines not as competition to, but rather to enhance the live and simulcast racing component. So even when Casino Windsor and the Detroit casinos were going full tilt, the Slots at Windsor Raceway continued to be a revenue source for all concerned. The players who benefitted included the Province of Ontario, the City of Windsor and the track itself who split their share with the horsemen to build purses to attract more stables to race at Windsor. This also helped Dresden Raceway that was operated by Windsor.
Tom Joy succeeded because he knew his customer base. "Our racing crowd is not the big betters, the high rollers. Our niche is an awful lot of blue collar, retired people." This demographic proved not only to be true for the race crowd but also for those who enjoyed a night at the slots.
I recall being asked by Joy's friend and confidant Fred Sorrell, to join a committee to welcome municipal visitors from across Latin America to the City of Roses. One day, Mr. Joy joined the meeting held at his expense at the raceway. "I just wanted to thank everyone who has worked so hard to make Windsor and Essex County look good. I'm very proud to be associated with each and every one of you". With that he left, but believe me after the build-up he gave to our group, there wasn't anything we wouldn't do to achieve the level of success he was working for.
It was a sad day for Windsor when he passed away.
So now, it is left to Windsor-Essex to keep the Joy dream alive. This attack on horse racing just can't be justified. And to think the charge is being led by a man who was elected to represent local people. The government hopes that after the deed is done, and the horse industry has moved away along with thousands of direct and ancillary jobs, that we will just forget about what happened. Racing is one of the biggest components in the agricultural sector. Windsor has the highest unemployment level in the nation. Does Caesar's Windsor need help so badly that they require the Ontario government to eliminate slots at not only Windsor, but also at Hiawatha Horse Park in Sarnia and the historic throughbred race course at Fort Erie? Will the area be better off if Windsor Raceway is turned into a subdivision?
They say that good overcomes bad. Let us hope that this will happen and the Ontario Liberals will back down and let Windsor-Essex enjoy the prosperity that racing has contributed to here since 1965.
Courtesy of Bill GRAY and the www.leamingtonpostandshopper.com