Despite a few holdouts, most of the province’s horse racing groups signed the deal that calls for up to $105 million in annual funding for a term that could stretch as long as 19 years.
by Sandra Snyder
It took a bit longer to ratify than expected, and there are some holdouts, but on Tuesday, May 8 the board of directors of Ontario Racing (OR) announced the signing of the long-term funding agreement with the Ontario government.
The agreement provides up to $105 million to the province’s horse racing industry — standardbred, thoroughbred and quarter horse — for a seven-year term beginning April 1, 2019, with two six-year extensions that can be automatically granted by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming corporation (OLG) so long as OR member racetracks conduct the number of race dates approved in their annual business plans. The $105 million commitment is $10 million more per year than the industry is currently receiving through the Horse Racing Partnership Funding Plan.
“This agreement is a significant step toward ensuring the vitality of horse racing in Ontario. It is designed to benefit the entire industry and is the result of years of collaboration with the sector and the Ontario government,” said Cal Bricker, senior vice president for horse racing at the OLG, via email. “OLG will contribute nearly two decades of stable funding to promote sustainability and industry-led success.”
Signing onto the deal were nine standardbred racetracks — Clinton Raceway, Dresden Raceway, Flamboro Downs, Georgian Downs, Grand River Raceway, Hanover Raceway, Rideau Carleton Raceway, The Raceway at Western Fair District and Woodbine Mohawk Park — two thoroughbred racetracks — Fort Erie Racetrack and Woodbine Racetrack — and quarter horse racetrack Ajax Downs.
Also signing, on behalf of their members, were standardbred industry associations Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA), Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association (SBOA), the National Capital Region Harness Horseman’s Association (NCRHHA), thoroughbred association Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) and quarter horse association Quarter Racing Owners of Ontario Inc. (QROOI).
Three standardbred racetracks chose not to sign the agreement — Hiawatha Horse Park, Kawartha Downs and Lakeshore Horse Racing Association, operators of Leamington Raceway — nor did the Ontario Harness Horse Association. Hiawatha, Kawartha and Leamington are classified as Grassroots level racetracks. In 2018 they are approved for 21, 18 and 13 race dates, respectively.
The three non-member racetracks will continue to receive funding through the Horse Racing Partnership Funding Plan until their current transfer payment agreements expire, and the door remains open for them to join Ontario Racing prior to the April 1, 2019 rollout of the new deal.
“Racetracks and associations that are not yet members of Ontario Racing have the opportunity to apply for membership at any time,” said OLG senior manager of media relations Tony Bitonti via email. “Membership is guaranteed until April 1, 2019. After that time, membership is granted at the discretion of Ontario Racing.”
Bricker added that OLG will remain available to all racetracks and associations in the months leading up to the launch of the agreement.
“OLG continues to meet with racetracks, associations and horse people to discuss the long-term funding agreement and answer questions from the industry,” said Bricker, via email. “Our goal is to help create a unified industry that is led by an association that provides the opportunity for fair representation of the horse racing industry in Ontario.”
In addition to the race date requirements, the new agreement requires regular reporting — financial, operational and wagering — from the member racetracks along with the need to meet 12 key performance indicators ranging from average field size to gross wagering commissions to average Ontario yearling sale price.
The board of Ontario Racing, currently comprised of Jessica Buckley (premier standardbred racetrack members), Hugh Mitchell (signature standardbred racetrack members), Ian Fleming (grassroots standardbred racetrack members), Jim Lawson (premier thoroughbred racetrack members), James Thibert (signature thoroughbred racetrack members), Bob Broadstock (quarter horse breeder and horseperson group), Walter Parkinson (standardbred breeder group), Bill O’Donnell (standardbred horseperson group), Peter Berringer (thoroughbred breeder group), and Sue Leslie (thoroughbred horseperson group), is responsible for providing administration, governance and decision-making on behalf of the industry.
Day-to-day management of Ontario Racing’s obligations under both its membership agreement and the funding agreement will be the responsibility of Ontario Racing Management (ORM), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Woodbine Entertainment Group. On Wednesday, May 9 Ontario Racing officially introduced the first two employees of the newly formed ORM, executive director Katherine Curry and director of marketing, communications and stakeholder relations John Siscos. Curry formerly served as Woodbine Entertainment’s vice president, legal and compliance, while Siscos was the director of communications.
The pair, along with future ORM staff, will work closely with Ontario Racing members to meet the obligations of the funding agreement and implement the vision of the board of directors, all with the goal of putting the province’s horse racing industry on firm footing for decades to come.