ORC conditionally cancels Woodstock Raceway’s licence
The director of the Ontario Racing Commission has conditionally cancelled Woodstock Raceway’s licence at the request of the track’s owner.
It is effective May 19 at 11:59 p.m, according to an ORC release, and means the cancellation of 16 race dates scheduled for 2013 and an uncertain future for the track.
As one of the conditions of the cancellation, all Woodstock Raceway purse monies must be forwarded to the ORC to be held in trust for Standardbred Horsepeople.
The racetrack operator, Winrac Development Inc. of Windsor, reportedly gave notice of its intention to return the licence for Woodstock on April 30.
Racetrack management has also indicated that inter-track operations at Woodstock will stop at the same time.
Winrac will still be the operator of Dresden Raceway and will run the 16 race dates approved there under the Ontario Racing Program.
Local horse breeders and trainers say this is a direct result of the provincial government’s decision to remove OLG slots from tracks.
Jack McNiven, 79, fears he’s witnessing the death of the industry and is concerned for youth who have a passion for horses.
He says the Woodstock track has seen some great races, but is now showing obvious signs of disrepair and neglect. He blames both Winrac and the province’s decision to pull slots from the racetracks so quickly.
“If they had left it in place and just over a period of years adjusted the percentages, we could have adjusted to that.”
With the loss of the slots revenue, the industry is losing more than 60 per cent of its funding.
But Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has said the industry will have to shrink in order to be sustainable.
McNiven says jobs will be lost and horses will have to be put down as a result of the decision and wonders if the price of downsizing is just too high.
London industry shares concern
At the Western Fair, those who are part of the horse racing industry are worried about the closure of the track in Woodstock.
Driver Wayne Preszcator says “It’s sobering, people are pretty down…It’s really hard on everyone, this is our living.”
But Hugh Mitchell, CEO of the Western Fair District, says he’s confident the demand, and the supply, is there.
“We see a good future, we truly do. We’re located in the hotbed of harness racing in this province. [There are] a lot of breeding and training organizations in close proximity to our racetrack.”
There are 30,000 full-time jobs in Ontario’s horse-racing industry that are at stake, and tough decisions have already been made.
Dr. Bernd Kretzschmar, a surgeon at London’s Equine Hospital, says injuries to horses sustained while racing make up 90 per cent of the hospital’s surgeries, and without tracks, there are a lot of doubts.
“We’ve lost two and a half people already, and if it continues it’s possible we will have to further reduce. Right now it’s become pretty much unsustainable.”