What is your opinion on the Ontario Horse Racing Industry?

I am perturbed that it seems so many people do not understand how critical racetracks are not only to the community, but to families and tradition as well! A few new tracks are opening up in the US as (I suspect) a result of the recent news in Ontario, and I am unsure of what will happen to current breeders, trainers, and owners racing their horses in Ontario.

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Closing the tracks has two immediate results, either the horses are sold for meat or the trainers move elsewhere.

Keeping a horse is so expensive that people feel justified in doing anything for a return on their considerable investment, often leading to preventable breakdowns and abuse of the horses.

It is a real pity that the good horse people are punished along with the bad. 


Do you think a lot of the people will move down to the US to remedy this issue? I hope that they send their horses to American tracks if they can afford it, while they are fighting to keep this critical industry open and moving. There has to be a better solution than shutting tracks down, in my opinion.

Re-instatement of the Slots at Racetracks Program is what needs to happen. Period. Yes, the government created a Transition Panel "to help transition the industry to a self-sustaining model" but the truth is, it won't work. They discovered that horse racing needs some sort of revenue from an outside source to keep it afloat. In other words, they want to give the industry a subsidy. That's odd??? Wasn't the industry getting a subsidy already??? The answer is NO!!! The SARP was a partnership (and a successful one at that, that generated $2B annually for the Province of Ontario). The government painted it as a subsidy to gain the taxpayers' support in cancelling the program.

But the industry doesn't want a subsidy. We already know (first-hand) that subsidies are the first 'go-to' when trying to replenish the deficit the government has dug for the Province. 

I know it's easy to play the blame game, and we'd all love to just blame the government but there were lots of errors made on the Horse Racing side of things as well. In thinking the SARP was meant to remain intact, the industry failed to promote the sport itself. There were also cases of track owners pocketing the money instead of re-investing it within the industry. The government created competition within the same building and then drew off like a sprinter and the horse racing industry got left behind in the dust. There is a misconception of the government "shutting down the tracks", what really happened is the government needing existing facilities to house their slot machines. Because horse racing was at that point, the only legal form of gambling (other than lotteries), it seemed like a great idea. But it created a dependency. Because Casino Niagara and Casino Windsor were in direct competition with Fort Erie, Windsor and Sarnia racetracks, they closed the slots at those racetracks as of April 1, 2012 (one month after the announcement to do-away-with the SARP). Within a couple months, those tracks (Sarnia had enough of a nest-egg to open this year) were forced to close because they could no longer afford to stay open. That being said, the SARP at the remaining 14 tracks are slated to close at the end of this month. Hence the panic factor. The industry has already foreseen what will happen, it's just a matter of time. Woodbine Entertainment Group (who owns Woodbine and Mohawk) is the only one that has made a temporary deal that will see racing for the next two years. Another twist is, they just laid off over 100 employees so how sure is it really? The other remaining tracks, with the exception of 2, have signed deals for a landlord/tenant type contract (excluding the horsemen). So, they may be ok as far as covering staff expenses and utility expenses BUT what about purse monies? It doesn't look promising :( All the industry wants is a chance to rectify the situation. With re-instatement of SARP, we can work on better promoting the industry to make it viable again. If they proceed with the cancellation of the SARP, racing will be a "once was". 

There are a few things about moving to the US (or elsewhere),

1) It will remove revenue from Ontario (and has already). Promotion of breeding, purchasing and racing in Ontario has been encouraged by the government to build up the Ontario Sire Stakes Program. So, that's what people did. Now, with pulling the Slots at Racetracks Program, NO ONE including Ontarians, want to breed or buy here. The sales last fall saw a 40-50% drop and breeding numbers were catastophically down. Despite the uncertainty of whether or not there will be racing and lack of answers, breeders and owners are still expected to make their stud fee payments and sustainability payments to the Stake Program (more money thrown out there with the potential of a loss).

2) A lot of the tracks in the US have modelled Ontario's SARP calling them "racinos" as it was uber-successful. IMO it's just a matter of time before the US government hones in on the $$ South of the border as well.

3) Some of the States are already writing classes that exclude Ontario breds to preserve their purse monies for horses born and raised in their particular State.

4) Without horses, you can't have horse racing. So, should the majority move South, who would be left to race here if racing does continue?

There are a lot of repercussions stemming from this rash and short-sighted decision. I know, as being a horse lover myself, people find it hard to understand when euthanasia or slaughter is mentioned. I don't think I could ever bring myself to do either BUT knowing there is 30,000+ horses registered to Ontario and knowing that only a small percentage will find forever homes...the writing's on the wall. On a lot of the news articles people question why that would be even an option. I understand their perception BUT we, as horse owners/lovers, know that the cheapest thing about owning a horse is the acquisition. How many little girls or parents etc will see the ad for a "free horse" (we all know there's no such thing) and jump on it without fully understanding the responsibilities. I, myself, would rather have a horse put down than know it is skin and bones standing in a field somewhere suffering. I know this is a controversial issue. And I know many of you will disagree with my stance but don't discount it. Unfortunately, if the government doesn't re-instate the SARP, it will happen. 

Christine - Playing "devil's advocate" here in a way: Since SARP is scheduled to be taken away, what can tracks/the industry do to regain interest in racing? If there is a panic factor in place because the tracks seems to be in "shut-down" mode, what can the industry do in order to "pick itself up by the bootstraps" and get the interest back on the horses? It seems that if the revenue was solely or mostly coming from SARP, the focus and interest weren't really on the horses in the first place. I know there are people who are passionate about racing for a plethora of reasons... there must be a way to work around the SARP issue. Thoughts?

It sounds sort of complicated, crossing the border to the USA, with getting permission for residency and making sure the horses are going to be allowed to cross the border.  I think that only the best horses will be sent over and I fear for the rest.

A big problem down here in the USA is that the horse racing tracks cannot seem to attract a lot of bettors unless they put in the gambling machines too.  People seem to be much more into car racing nowadays even though there is no formal betting arrangements, and I suspect that the car racing people are not as deep into gambling on the race outcomes.  It is sad, down here in NC I have signed I do not know how many petitions to bring formal horse racing with gambling, but all we have is the Colonial Cup steeplechase once a year.  Meanwhile we have to put up with drivers imitating their favorite race car drivers on our highways.  Scary at times!

It is a sad fact that there are more superior horses than there are superior riders that can handle them.  That can greatly limit the market for TBs as riding horses unless show trainers pick them up.  I remember when OTTBs were the preferred hunt seat horses and you could find a few in most hunt seat stables since everyone who wanted to prove they were a good rider greatly preferred the TB.  Now the riders seem to prefer the quieter warm bloods.  


I agree; I think it could be complicated. I think it is a really big bummer that the industry is coming to something like this. I hope that the big names in Canada can help to make the "international" racing industry plausible for those with even slim chances. As we know, those tend to be the ones who surprise us most!

I suppose I am not a huge H/J person experience-wise, but the folks I know in H/J barns and eventing/dressage barns LOVE their OTTBs for these sports. They are cheap, registered, have a very well-kept history (for the most part), and generally are pretty sound and still young enough to have a lot of life in them. I wish more OTSTBs were viewed this way. I think their demise is what is the saddest to me.

But alas, we won't stand for a closure of the race tracks in Ontario; at least not for long ;)


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