Things are looking up in Ontario for the first time in a long time, as a Government-appointed panel announced the continuation of harness racing's sire stakes program at current levels.
Standardbred Canada Chair Tammy McNiven was selling yearlings at the Standardbred Horse Sale for her Twinbrook Farm when the news came through late Tuesday afternoon.
"The panel that was put in place by the liberal government to research how the horse industry can transition into an industry that the government wants to see, came out with a statement. It was demanded by the Standardbred breeders of Ontario. (The panel recommended) that the money for the sire stakes would be maintained from 2013 and beyond -- a guesstimate of that is $22 million (a year).
McNiven says the "beyond" part is in question.
"That is unclear, wording is very unclear," she said. "The wording says, ‘intend to carry on beyond 2013.' They (the panel) is relaying to us that that is exactly what they want to have happen. They're really pushing the government. The panel very much realizes how beneficial the horse industry is in Ontario and what an impact it has. They know they have to keep us there or the whole rural economy will collapse and it will transfer to the urban economy, too."
The panel making the recommendation is made up of three former provincial government officials, from three different parties, all former provincial agricultural ministers.
"They understand agriculture," says McNiven. "Even though they are from three different parties, they have similar values when it comes to the agricultural community.
McNiven thinks the announcement had an effect within minutes on sale prices at Harrisburg.
"The announcement came out at about 4:30 yesterday. I went to (Sales Manager) Murray Brown's office and asked him to watch the internet. As soon as it was on the internet, Murray made the announcement and there was a round of applause and a buzz. We sold an Ontario-sired colt this morning and the people that bought it said it (the announcement) doubled the price (they were willing to spend)."
The announcement came too late for horses selling prior to Tuesday afternoon.
"We saw a 50 percent drop in sales that carried over here Monday and Tuesday," says McNiven. "I'm not sure how much of an effect that has had today, but in our own consignment it has helped. I don't know if you can put a dollar figure on it to see if it helped, but it didn't hurt.
"The next three to six weeks is going to be very, very critical in Ontario for us to get more meetings with the Standardbred panel and make sure this industry is moving in the right direction. It's good for breeders, it's good for horse people and it's good for racetracks and the public."
McNiven said the panel's recommendations are just that and the government is not bound by their announcement.
"The intent is that they want these recommendations followed through with," says McNiven. "It's a step in the right direction."
Prices for Ontario-breds through Tuesday are:
Monday: 27 Horses Sold Total: $906,000Avg: $33,555
Tuesday: 37 Horses Sold Total: $1,008,000Avg: $27,243
by Ellen Harvey, Harness Racing Communications