New horse funding seen as a trot in the right direction
While $10 million in funding for horse breeders and horsepeople announced by the Ontario government Thursday is not all new money, it was generally lauded by area stakeholders.
The province announced it’s replacing the $6.6 million Enhanced Horse Improvement Program, previously administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) with the $10 million Horse Improvement Program (HIP) to be administered by Ontario Racing.
The annual funding will support breeding and industry development for Ontario-bred horses. The province also committed to maintain the $105 million, 19-year funding agreement installed under the previous government last spring.
Earlier this year, the province also created the Optional Slots at Racetracks Program which allowed Kawartha Downs to retain 150 slot machines after Great Canadian Gaming’s new Shorelines Casino Peterborough opened.
Not clarified on Thursday is what happened to the $5-million program available to racetracks through OMAFRA to help grassroots tracks transition away from slots revenues.
Brian Tropea, general manager of the Ontario Harness Horse Association, said it looks like a reshuffling of previous funding but credited the province for recognizing the importance of rural jobs.
“We’ve met and talked with the premier and the minister of finance’s office and they genuinely want to see the industry succeed,” Tropea said.
“It’s a very complicated industry to try to understand with the different players and sources of revenues and government agencies involved. They’ve made positive steps. We are better off now than we were eight or nine months ago. We’re confident if we continue to work with them it will get even better.”
The new $3.5 million will be divided between thoroughbred, standardbred and quarter-horse breeds, he said. Small Ontario Racing committees will determine how funds are allocated.
“They might use it as breeders’ awards or enhanced Sire Stakes purses. Those are the two traditional uses of that money,” Tropea said. “A lot of our people don’t race those types of horses.”
Tropea is concerned that committees will include racetrack representatives.
“Why would we have racetrack people making decisions on how horsepeople allocate their revenue? We don’t get to make determinations on how the racetracks spend their money,” he said.
Kawartha Downs GM Orazio Valente said tracks will benefit indirectly.
“It should lead to more competitive racing at tracks like Kawartha Downs for years to come,” Valente said.
“Grooms, breeders, owners, are the grassroots of this industry. Unless the economics make sense for them this industry will never be sustainable. This is a step in the right direction.”
Greg Walling, who worked as an industry adviser to former OMAFRA minister Jeff Leal, said the province deserves credit for convincing Great Canadian Gaming to allow some slots at race tracks. It was something the Liberals tried to negotiate without success.
“They somehow muscled Great Canadian to do that because that wasn’t available to us,” he said. “Contractually, they wouldn’t do it. For the smaller tracks that is good transitional help.”
Walling doesn’t see this as new money but he does see it as a commitment to the industry.
“They are spending it different and under new governance but it’s a commitment to continue. There are a lot of people, ask the 2,000 teachers who are going to lose their jobs and the hospital administrators, a lot of people who are under the gun. I think this is a good sign for horse racing.”
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli stated in a release that horse racing sector plays a vital role in rural communities and Ontario’s heritage.
“This investment will help support Ontario’s breeders and horsepeople and ensure the province’s horse racing community is open for business, and can create and protect jobs,” Fedeli stated.