Urging Hambletonian Society to reconsider decision not to defer stakes payments

The most difficult decisions during these times are the ones that will define us as an industry.

by Anthony MacDonald

This is not the first pandemic the world has faced and it won’t be the last.

Influenza killed 50 million people when it struck in 1918. In 1957, the Asian flu killed 1.1 million people worldwide. Another 1 million died in 1968, and half a million died a decade ago from H1N1. These are things that grandfathers recall and tell their families about.

I suspect our stories, someday, will start with phrases like shelter in place, and social distancing. It’s hard to believe that we got to this point so quickly, but scientists said this could, and likely would happen again. They said we should prepare, but how do you prepare for the world screeching to a halt in mere weeks?

Millions in society are now left out of work, and we all know some of those businesses will never open again. How do you operate a business, or in this case an industry, in these truly terrifying times?

Firstly, you try and protect the most vulnerable.

I saw the tears in the eyes of our caretakers the day after Ontario first ceased operations. They were listening to the news and were terrified that I would simply come in and start laying off people. I didn’t because I couldn’t live with that decision.

Instead, I messaged all of our 800 clients to update them on the situation and ask them how they were doing.

Would they be able to continue with their financial obligations in general, and with thestable.ca?

This is noteworthy because they too have contracts and I made it clear that I was going to do what I could to ensure all of them could continue on with horse ownership.

Two things happened: A few came forward and said they may need help, but many more said they would help those in need. It was one of the most heartwarming displays I had ever seen.

Secondly, you look to the future. Look past the clouds of the now, no matter what they are, and try to see what is in store for us next. One of the most important factors to getting through this is understanding our stakeholders’ needs and doing our very best to facilitate them.

What can we do to ensure our participants can continue to participate? This should be asked, answered, and revisited constantly. One key component is financial security, or the lack thereof, for all of us.

We have seen almost every jurisdiction defer stake payments including Woodbine. Jim Lawson’s statement from Woodbine’s decision speaks directly to their leadership and their commitment to the future of this industry:

“It’s important for us to recognize the challenges facing everyone in the horse business at this time, and we want to help where we can,” said Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment. “We want to thank all of the owners that have staked their horses for 2020.”

Horse racing is used to bad economic news, but this is new even for us. If it was business as usual we would be racing, training, and writing cheques soon for our April 15 sustaining payments. But it’s not business as usual. Or is it?

I’ll be honest, I was truly disappointed with the Hambletonian Society’s decision to continue forward with April’s sustaining payments. They referenced legalities and regulations, but I doubt anyone has a pandemic clause in their contracts. What’s best for the future of horse racing in extraordinary times should always outweigh contracts written in ordinary times. Simply put, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

Our industry is an extremely vulnerable position right now and business as usual is simply not in line with reality. To ignore the economic turmoil in the world right now and expect our participants to be able to make these payments is simply not realistic. It is easy to mis-step in the here-and-now of a pandemic, and I hope the Hambletonian Society revisits its decision quickly.

I know many of the board members of the Hambletonian Society and one thing is for certain; they all want what’s best for our industry. Yet this announcement certainly doesn’t appear to reflect their tireless work.

I think this week’s announcement was one made through the eyes of a lawyer, and maybe given the amount of money at hand, it seemed like the best way to move forward as the path of least resistance.

I ask you now to look through the eyes of the people unemployed, out of work, and desperately trying to remain a part of this industry.

Being responsible for our industry’s future is a burden we all need to carry at the moment.

When the person besides you falls down, you need to try and help them up if you can. That is what being a horseman is, and has to be now more than ever.

The average person in society today has the ability to defer their mortgage payments, and soon will have access to relief packages from our governments. We need to fully grasp what is happening to our clients in their day-to-day life.

I imagine many people are upset, but I think the proper thing to do is to send your thoughts (not your anger) to the Hambletonian Society explaining how this decision affects you in these financially crippling times.

I would suggest that the Hambletonian Society take another look at this with a full view of the entire industry. From where I sit, this decision does not reflect what is best for the everyday people of horse racing. I’m asking you to do what is right in these desperate times, so we can at least pretend things will be normal again, someday.

I submit that Mr. Campbell and all the Hambletonian Society take a week to revisit this and listen to the horse racing community.

If we make decisions moving forward based on what’s best for all of us, we will all prosper on the other side.


Anthony MacDonald