The incredible generosity of the Ontario harness racing community

The incredible generosity of the Ontario harness racing community

October 4, 2019

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There are countless examples of the province’s racetracks and participants giving back to worthy causes.

by Sandra Snyder | Sponsored by Ontario Racing

Wander into an Ontario racetrack during a live program and you will often find yourself in the midst of a community-based fundraiser or awareness campaign. Working with organizations that range from local sports teams to national foundations, each year Ontario racetracks give hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours to community causes.

“I think that it makes sense to. I mean we have the venue, we have the people, so why wouldn’t we?” said Clinton Raceway’s marketing and promotions manager Jessica Carnochan. “And it works for us. We can show them what a great time it is and then they can come back on their own when they aren’t necessarily there for the specific fundraiser.”

Every one of Clinton Raceway’s 15 live race days is a fundraiser for a local group. This summer, the organizations that took advantage of the track’s “Day at the Races” fundraising application included the local high school, a variety of minor sports clubs and area non-profits such as the Huron Residential Hospice and Stratford-Perth Humane Society.

“Like any organization, we were always being asked for donations, so we turned that ask into a giveback where we invited those doing the asking to host an event. We’d assist them, and they would in turn bring some new faces to the track, something we all like to see,” said Carnochan. “Each season we assist these local organizations in raising between $2,000 and $5,000 a week. We couldn’t do it without our loyal race fans; their willingness to support is what makes each week a success. The community of harness racing is so willing to give back, it’s heartwarming to see.”

In addition to the weekly “Day at the Races” fundraisers, Clinton also plays host to an annual Drivers Charity Challenge for a different organization each year and its biennial Legends Day has raised over $250,000 for the Clinton Public Hospital Foundation.

At Hiawatha Horse Park on a Saturday night you might not realize that a fundraiser is under way, but every time drivers Garret Rooney, Tyler Borth and Andy Moore won a race this season their corporate partners made a $10 donation to a local organization. Rooney’s partner was HUB International that donated $340 to St. Clair Child and Youth Services, Borth was paired with BDO Sarnia, who donated $280 to the Inn of the Good Shepherd, and Moore’s partner Siskinds Law Firm donated $340 to the Sarnia Arena Revitalization Project.

Other racetracks are also involved in more ‘behind the scenes’ support of their community, including Grand River Raceway whose parent company, the Grand River Agricultural Society, has contributed funding or Gift-in-Kind support for local initiatives totalling more than $1.75 million in the last 15 years.

The primary streams of the Grand River Agricultural Society’s giving are a scholarship program that supports students residing in Wellington and Perth counties in their pursuit of agricultural studies at the college or university level and grants for organizations or projects dedicated to enhancing rural life.

Also operated by an Agricultural Society, The Raceway at the Western Fair District supports a variety of community-based initiatives, on both live race nights and off days.

On Friday, Oct. 25 the London oval will play host to the 14th annual Harness The Hope night, complete with a Winning Key Contest, 50-50 draw, silent auction and penny auction. The event, spearheaded by Doreen, Kristy and Brandi Dustin, is a fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and the Pink Pearl Foundation (details here).

Harness The Hope started at The Raceway at the Western Fair District when Kristy Dustin was working as the track’s marketing manager and her mother Doreen was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since then, the event has expanded to other racetracks and events, even reaching PEI this summer.

The Raceway is currently looking at ways it can support another initiative launched by an employee. Western Fair District security team member Allison DeBlaire’s 519Pursuit offers friendship and practical support to London residents struggling with extreme poverty and homelessness.

“She alone last year — with some help from friends and social media and everything like that —she did a sock campaign for the month of October and she raised 28,000 pairs of socks,” said Raceway Manager Greg Gangle. “This year I asked her, I said what’s a realistic goal for the 519Pursuit, and she said we’ll get 50,000 no problem.”

The night after Harness The Hope in London, the Breeders Crown Charity Challenge will come to a close. Part of the Breeders Crown festivities at Woodbine Mohawk Park, the challenge pairs four top 3-year-old racehorses with a local celebrity and a charity of their choosing and asks fans to vote for their favorite team (vote here).

The winning team will receive the lion’s share of one per cent of the June 1 through Oct. 26, 2019 earnings from participating racehorses Warrawee Ubeaut, Woodside Charm, Gimpanzee and Captain Crunch and the $205,00 raised in Wednesday night’s stallion service auction at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. (read more about the challenge here).

While tailored to the Breeders Crown, the challenge is just one aspect of the community-based initiatives Woodbine Mohawk Park staff and fans will participate in this year through Woodbine Cares. On both the North America Cup and Metro Pace nights the Campbellville oval partnered with the Milton District Hospital Foundation, selling 50-50 tickets to support the foundation’s fund-raising effort and Woodbine Cares regularly offers grants, in-kind donations and hands-on help to organizations in and around Halton County.

Racetracks are not the only members of Ontario’s harness racing community focused on giving back to their community. Many participants give their time, talent and treasure to a wide variety of initiatives, from offering a helping hand to an individual struggling with health care or other expenses right up to the stewardship of national foundations.

At this fall’s Standardbred Horse Sales Company yearling auction in Harrisburg, PA, breeder Twinbrook Farms will sell a yearling with more going for him than a solid pedigree and a sharp video. When the hammer falls on Twin B Fighter, by Bettors Delight and out of In The Pink, Twinbrook Farms will donate four per cent of his purchase price to Harness The Hope.

“His name is Twin B Fighter, because you have to be a fighter to beat breast cancer,” said Twinbrook’s Tammy McNiven of the pacing colt, who will sell as Hip Number 13. “Hopefully we’ll be able to give them a big check.”

Whether bidding on a yearling, purchasing a 50-50 draw ticket or pitching in to plant trees, harness racing participants are making a positive contribution to their communities and serving as ambassadors for the industry. One week out from (Canadian) Thanksgiving, there is much to be grateful for.

Stakes action Oct. 4 to 10:

Oct. 4 – The Raceway at the Western Fair District – OSS Gold Series (2cp)
Oct. 5 – Woodbine Mohawk Park – OSS Grassroots Championships, all divisions
Oct. 12 – Woodbine Mohawk Park – OSS Gold Super Finals, all divisions

Ontario handicapping picks

A deep selection of handicapping picks for Ontario racetracks — featuring the talents of Garnet Barnsdale, Michael Bozich and Michael Carter — is available on the Ontario Racing website.

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