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Do more to prevent barn fires; interesting numbers in Ontario; NY preparing for casino battle

March 27, 2016

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by Dave Briggs

Tragic and disheartening doesn’t even begin to cover a rash of barn fires that have killed horses in recent months, most notably in Ontario and Florida. I try not to think about how the horses suffered. I won’t pretend to comprehend the emotional toll on those people closest to them.

But I do know most of us have to do a better job on fire safety to decrease the number and severity of such fires.

I’m not naïve. I realize barns are particularly susceptible to fires due to combustible materials such as wood and hay. It doesn’t help that many barns are old and have outdated electrical wiring, or that the dusty environment makes it difficult to install effective sprinkler systems and smoke or heat detectors.

That is all the more reason to take whatever steps possible to decrease the risk of fire.

Experts say professionally installed barn sprinklers are the best way to prevent fires, but such systems can be cost prohibitive for many.

In 2003, in the aftermath of a barn fire that killed 34 thoroughbreds in the backstretch at Woodbine Racetrack, the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) spent some $12 million on enhanced fire safety, with about $7 million of that used to install sprinkler systems in its 40 barns. The other $5 million was used to upgrade electrical wiring, install fireproof walls and strobe-light alarms to avoid spooking horses with loud alarms. The average cost per barn to improve fire safety was $300,000, and that was 13 years ago.

By all means, if you have the money, go that route. The animals are worth it, but the reality is not everyone can afford those kinds of upgrades. Fortunately there are some less expensive ideas for keeping horses safe. There is a lot of great information on the Internet, including the Equine Guelph website, which has a number of articles and a series of fire tips from barn fire safety expert Laurie Loveman (click here).

Preventing fires by being vigilant against smokers, keeping barns as clean as possible, making sure there are working fire extinguishers, having annual fire and electrical inspections, storing hay in a separate building and keeping cats around to deal with electrical-wire-chewing mice should not be a great expense. Neither is it particularly expensive to hire someone to be on night patrol.

The sad reality is, once a barn fire starts, experts say you may have no more than five minutes to get the horses out.

Yes, insuring every horse can be cost prohibitive, but owner David McDuffee has a more cost-effective way to protect the financial part of the investment — fire insurance (see Feedback section for more).

Simply put, most of us can and should do more to prevent further barn fires and the tragedy that goes with them.

Interesting numbers in Ontario

A few years ago, in the wake of the cancellation of Ontario’s Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP), even the provincial government that killed the program grudgingly agreed there were some 30,000 full-time equivalent jobs tied to horse racing in the province. Truth is, the economic studies were all over the map, and skeptics found 30,000 to be on the high side.

This week, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) released the results of a survey of the industry it conducted last fall and the numbers seem to be in line with previous studies. The report concludes that the horse racing industry supports 41,329 unique jobs divided by full-time, part-time and seasonal. That translates into an estimate of 26,418 full-time equivalent jobs. That’s pretty much bang on with the earlier 30,000 estimate, especially given the contraction of the industry since SARP was cancelled.

Keep in mind, the OMAFRA numbers are the result of a survey completed by 403 of the approximately 6,300 licensed owners, breeders and trainers in the province (about half of the respondents reported they race on the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) circuit). That’s about a six per cent response rate. Still, in an industry lacking concrete numbers, it’s a good start to provide the essential data necessary to prove the economic importance of the industry. The tie to jobs is a critical political argument.

Other interesting numbers from the survey include:
The industry’s economic impact in Ontario is $494 million directly tied to horses and an additional $583 million in “other” direct expenditures for a total of just over $1 billion.

The average survey respondent spent just under $170,000 each on horse racing, with the average expenditure on horses alone coming in at just under $78,000.

There are more than 34,000 racehorses in the province — 20,894 are standardbreds, 12,660 are thoroughbreds and 547 are quarter horses.

Active standardbred racehorses cost $27,485 per year to maintain, compared with $31,277 for thoroughbred racehorses.

NY gearing up for a fight over NJ

In the no surprise department, the New York Gaming Association (NYGA) appears to be gearing up for a fight to stop New Jersey voters from approving casinos in the north of the state.

An article by Tom Precious in the Blood Horse on March 24, included a quote from an NYGA statement that said, “New casinos in northern New Jersey would present a significant threat to New York’s gaming industry, risking hundreds of millions of dollars in critical education revenue and jeopardizing thousands of family-sustaining jobs. New York must ensure that its successful casinos can continue to compete on a level playing field.”

While the NYGA has not said whether it is developing a plan to try to encourage New Jersey citizens to vote no, those sound like fighting words to me.

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