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Local horse racing feeling optimistic while facing funding cuts

by Kyle Reid

A recent meeting with a representative of Ontario’s Minister of Finance has the Lakeshore Horse Racing Association (LHRA) feeling optimistic about the future of the local racing industry in the face of potential funding cuts.

Recently, the Ontario Racing Group decided it would no longer provide funding to the Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA), an affiliate group of the local LHRA. It would leave the around 3,000 members of the association, consisting of smaller, rural-area racetracks, with no choice but to join a larger, Toronto-area group, the Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA).

Currently, the Ontario Racing Group provides $750,000 in funding to the OHHA, which supports smaller racing tracks, like the Leamington Raceway.

Representatives of the LHRA have said they feel they are most effectively represented by their current affiliation with the OHHA. The larger group, COSA, has ties with Woodbine Entertainment, and a worry for the LHRA is that the larger groups like Woodbine would leave the smaller racetracks, like the Leamington Raceway, without a voice in the association.

“It would give carte blanche powers to the Woodbine entertainment group,” Mark Williams said, who is the President of the LHRA.

However, Williams said a recent meeting with a representative of Ontario’s Finance Miniser, Vic Fedeli, left him feeling hopeful that the Provincial government would take action to intervene in the matter. No commitments were made, but the message was positive, according to Williams.

“You’re just reading a reception, and trying to read someone else, [but] we all came away with a better feeling that something, or something positive, will come out of this,” Williams said about the meeting.

Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain, who is also a member of the LHRA, attended the meeting. He concurred with Williams’s assessment of the meeting, also noting the fear is that the Leamington Raceway and other smaller tracks would be closed if the OHHA is forced to join the Woodbine affiliated COSA.

“Certainly, we were pleased to have her hear all of our concerns,” Bain said. “Certainly, our fear is that giving power of the entire racing portfolio to (COSA) will only result in the smaller racing tracks being closed.”

Bain said their group was advised to not sign any long-term agreement before Provincial government representatives look into the issue. He’s hoping the issue can be put to a vote of OHHA members.

Bain also noted there are some 2,000 locals in Essex County who would be directly or indirectly affected should the Leamington Raceway close. Williams said, however, the group isn’t looking at the worst-case scenario.

“I don’t see a worst-case scenario, because I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams that this government [would] allow one particular racetrack in Ontario to decide unilaterally to silence the voices of all of our members,” Williams said. “That would be absurd; I don’t expect that to happen, that’s for sure.”

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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