Noteworthy farewells mark early end to Nova Scotia track’s season.
by Melissa Keith
Last Friday (Nov. 1) was the year’s last live race card at Truro Raceway. The Bible Hill, NS track was approved for further dates by the Atlantic Provinces Harness Racing Commission, but cut the season short for financial reasons. So instead of racing until Dec. 20 at Truro, local owners and trainers were compelled to make alternative arrangements.
In early October, general manager Kelly MacEachen confirmed that Truro Raceway would conclude its season seven weeks earlier than planned. “The Board of Directors and management… made a fiscally responsible decision to help ensure the 2020 season commences in a debt-free position. With the split from the Nova Scotia [Provincial] Exhibition in February 2018, Truro Raceway Limited incurred $372,000 [Can.] in liabilities. After 18 months, the TRL Board is pleased to announce that the debt has been retired and paid in full.”
Two days after Truro’s last 2019 card, MacEachen said she did not yet have final numbers for how annual handle fared, but “year over year, the wager per dash has increased.” She attributed this to an improved simulcast signal, the result of recently-adopted production by Universum Media. “Now it’s worth watching from home,” said the track GM. “Fast Fridays” will remain the norm in the coming year, offering a popular 6:30 pm (Atlantic) post time instead of the traditional Sunday afternoon. “We’re hoping to start back the second week in April,” MacEachen told HRU. “We’re hoping to start fresh with the Hubtown Horse Owners’ Club in the spring, with two new horses.”
The two pacers shared by the fractional ownership group both went out winners last Friday: Well Did (1:58.1h in the top class) and Larjon Lachlan (2:01.1h in a mid-level conditioned event). Trainer/driver Paul Langille purchased 8-year-old gelding Well Did (p, 5, 1:53.0f; $151,790) to start a new fractional group; the club is selling 7-year-old mare Larjon Lachlan (p, 5, 1:54.3h; $107,790) to dissolve the existing partnership. “[Hubtown Horse Owners’ Club] brought a lot of new faces around the track,” said MacEachen. “Attendance went up whenever they raced — you could definitely notice the people along the fence.”
Although participants would have preferred to race into next month, Truro Raceway’s GM affirmed that wrapping the season early was “to start next season strong” in the half-mile landmark’s 155th year.
Despite the abbreviated season, two pacers qualified before Friday’s betting card. Popular 2015 North America Cup winner Wakizashi Hanover (p, 5, 1:47.3m; $1,475,750) surfaced for owners Wayne Burley, Bruce Kennedy, and Percy Bonnell, all of Truro, NS, and Jennifer Weeks, of New Glasgow, NS. The 7-year-old gelding aggravated a leg injury after winning his only pari-mutuel start of the year, an easy 1:54.4h top-class victory June 28 at Truro. Following Wakizashi Hanover’s Nov. 1 qualifier, in which he and driver Darren Crowe distanced their single rival in 1:59.4h, the fan favourite was expected to visit Red Shores Charlottetown and (later) Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Another well-known figure at Truro Raceway was also departing after the Friday races. Track photographer Kyle Burton said he had been in the role for “just shy of 10 years,” having started when he was still a high school student. “I just kind of picked it up on my own. I was coming to the track with my parents already, and I didn’t want to do the physical work stuff,” he said with a laugh. The first photo Burton sold was an image of a 2-year-old Somebeachsomewhere qualifying over the Bible Hill oval: “I sold one to Brent [MacGrath] and he carried it around in his wallet a long time. When I saw him at the North America Cup the following year , he still did. That was cool.”
The 2017 O’Brien Media Excellence Award winner for photography estimated he’s taken “a little over a million” digital photos of standardbreds in his career. Burton observed that “in the last two or three years, there’s been a drastic increase in the number of people taking their own photos” in the winner’s circle at many racetracks, but the problem hasn’t eaten into his business. The Truro Raceway winner’s circle is located in the track infield, which limits interlopers; there is also a technical aspect to getting good pictures there. “What’s unique about Truro — why I have zero competition — is that you need about $8,000 [in equipment] to compensate for the poor lighting here,” he explained.
Burton is exiting racetrack photography because he’s currently employed “travelling internationally to sell Halifax as the best place to operate a marine company.” He will maintain his website and Facebook page for now, because of customer demand. “From a revenue point of view, the last few years have been the best for me,” he said, citing fractional ownership as a primary reason: “When a horse like Well Did [owned by the Hubtown Horse Owners’ Club] wins, I get paid for 25 pictures. It’s a great trend for track photographers, but a lot of it comes down to customer service, too.”
His only losses have been in personal time (“I haven’t had a free weekend in the summer since I was 17”), and when his parents’ horses win. “It’s awful — I can’t make any money off it,” quipped Burton, who added he will still be active at Truro Raceway, just not with his camera. He owns a yearling Physicallyinclined colt, Speed Limit, who may debut there in 2020.