A funding cut to the region’s harness racing association stands to threaten the fate of smaller tracks such as Leamington Raceway, say those connected to the industry in Essex County.
“Our harness racing association (Ontario Harness Horse Association) has always represented us and done a good job,” said Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain, also a member of the affiliated Lakeshore Horse Racing Association.
“We are afraid what will happen without that representation. We will not get the funding we need to continue. Without a voice it’s likely we would be slowly eased out of the racing business.”
The Ontario Racing Group decided it will no longer provide funds for the OHHA, leaving its 3,000 members no choice other than to become members of a much larger Toronto-area association known as the Central Ontario Standardbred Association. The group has strong ties with the Woodbine Entertainment Group.
Any track that closes down would benefit Woodbine
“The smaller tracks would not get good representation,” Bain said. “We would be thrown in with the larger tracks such as Woodbine and Mohawk (racetracks). We would just get swallowed up and be left without a voice on decisions that get made.”
The fear is smaller tracks would be closed, so those funds would instead be used to better support racing at larger tracks, said Brian Tropea, general manager for OHHA.
“Any track that closes down would benefit Woodbine,” he said.
The association currently receives $750,000 annually from the Ontario Racing Group which helps support racing at smaller tracks. But those funds originate OHHA’s members paid out of their prize money.
OHHA in return also provides benefits such as dental and retirement plans, aside from lobbying efforts.
There is presently a two-year contract in place to continue with 13 harness racing dates annually at Leamington Raceway. But there are no commitments to continue beyond that.
Other smaller tracks that might be threatened include racetracks in Sarnia, which has 21 dates annually, and Dresden which races on 11 days per year.
Bain indicated there are roughly 2,000 direct and indirect jobs connected to the harness racing business across Essex County that stand to be impacted should any of the smaller harness racing tracks be closed.
“OHHA has always represented us (since 1962) and smaller tracks get good representation,” he said. “Beyond the two-year contract (at Leamington), we worry they will close the doors.”