Still a chance for Kawartha Downs in 2014

02:55 AM 27 Dec 2013 NZDT
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Harness racing
Live harness racing takes place after harness racing is saved on March 30 at Kawartha Downs in Fraserville.
Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/QMI Agency file photo

Even though all harness racing dates have been cancelled at Kawartha Downs for 2014, some local officials are saying there’s still a chance racing will carry on next year.

“By all means, it’s not over,” said Steve Brackenridge, the past president of the Peterborough County Federation of Agriculture and a supporter of local harness racing.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a 100% chance there will be racing next year - but I’d say there’s a much better chance than people think today,” he said.

News broke Friday that Kawartha Downs Ltd. had advised the Ontario Racing Commission that it would not be applying for a 2014 licence to operate a racetrack. That effectively cancelled all KD’s race dates for 2014.

But Brackenridge says that doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be harness racing next year at the track in Fraserville, southwest of Peterborough.

While track owner Skip Ambrose isn’t expected to apply to operate the races, Brackenridge said a not-for-profit agency could still come forward and do the job.

Having a not-for-profit operate the races was an idea proposed by the province last year following some big changes to the way harness racing operates in Ontario.

First Queen’s Park cancelled its $345-million-a-year slots at racetracks program as part of an effort to reduce the deficit. But when Premier Kathleen Wynne replaced Dalton McGuinty, the Liberals decided instead to offer $80 million a year for harness racing, with most of it going to a handful of the province's larger tracks.

Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal wasn’t available for comment Monday night. When the decision to end the program to fund harness racing was first made, he’d been critical of the government over it.

Brackenridge doesn’t know of any potential investors or not-for-profit groups that might step up and operate the racing. But he said the desire is strong among horsemen and fans to keep it up, and potential investors could still come forward.

A new operator would have to lease the track and organize the races. Brackenridge said such a group would have until Febr. 15 to apply to the province to do so.

Just don’t expect his group - the Peterborough County Federation of Agriculture - to do it. Brackenridge said the farming federation would do whatever it could to make a connection between a prospective new race operator, Kawartha Downs and the provincial government - but it won’t organize the races.

The federation works on general issues of concern to the farming community, he says. Since several horsemen belong to the federation, he said they wanted to help the process along.

Skip Ambrose, the owner of Kawartha Downs, wasn’t available for comment Monday night.

Elmer Buchanan, chairman of the Ontario Racing Commission and a farmer in Havelock, said it’s still possible for a not-for-profit group to come and organize the races. But they’d have to “get their act together and apply” soon, he said.

And they must not be daunted if it takes time and patience to take over organizing the races.

“It’s a rigorous process to get a new licence,” he said.

by Joelle kovach, reprinted with permission by www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com

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