Saturday horse racing fans might want to wear a black arm band as a way to mark the end of an era in Yorkton with what could be the last day of standardbred racing at Cornerstone Raceway.
In this case it is not merely the end of another season, the fifth since the pacers returned to the city, but perhaps forever.
And when four days of racing at West Meadows near Regina conclude Oct. 7, it could be the final mile for standardbreds in the province.
The potential deathblow for a sport which has existed in Saskatchewan for decades came earlier this year when the province announced the end of grant funding to horse racing with 2012.
In April, Tim McMillan, then Minister responsible for the Liquor and Gaming Authority said the decision was one of priorities.
“Largely it comes down to priority,” he told Yorkton This Week, adding “first and foremost we believe in having a balanced budget.”
McMillan said with rising costs to meet a growing population in education, long term care, and addressing health issues such as surgical wait times, the government needs to look at where it spends its money.
The Authority collects about $850,000 in taxes from wagers on races while giving out $1.5 million in grants, the lion’s share to the thoroughbred racing in Saskatoon, with the remainder to standardbreds in Yorkton and Regina. The Yorkton Exhibition Association received $320,000 for the 2012 race season.
But the grant money which has existed in some form from the province for years supports an entire industry, one which is the livelihood for many.
This Saturday, as an example, Shaun Morin, manager of the YEA, said 89 horses were entered for the final day of races,
Morin said when you consider 89 horses being entered, that is probably 200 people directly involved through ownership, training, grooming and driving.
“Their livelihoods are on the line now,” he said, adding the $320,000 the YEA received as a grant, with the bulk of it going to purses, is a big part of that.
Morin said the money, where the majority goes to purses, is an economic generator. He said when you think about how purses go to owners and then to drivers, trainers, grooms, as well as feed, horseshoes, veterinary services, food and gas, it flows quickly through Yorkton.
“It’s got to generate a million dollars coming into our city,” he said, adding with the announced cut “all of a sudden it’s gone.”
When one considers the heritage of horse racing, one which dates back years, thinks of the impact of owners, trainers and drivers, many who have given large chunks of their lives to the sport and industry, the economic spinoffs generated and the entertainment standardbred racing provides to fans here, it is hard to justify the government cut.
It may now be a last ditch effort to sway government to the point it recognizes the grants as investment in an industry that has wide ranging benefits, but the effort should still be made.
Yorkton MLA Greg Ottenbreit, and the rest of Premier Brad Wall’s government, needs to be made aware voters would prefer to see racing continue. One way to do that, said Morin is to show up at races Saturday if they want to send a message to the government that they should change their mind in terms of supporting horse racing.
“If they want racing to survive they need them to come out Saturday,” he said.
Certainly enjoying a day of racing to support an industry that plays the role it does locally is a good way to spend a September day, and something we should all consider closely.