Death knell for horse racing

CIt appears the provincial government has fired the final bullet to put down standardbred racing in Yorkton, and in Saskatchewan.

At best the standardbred horse race industry in Saskatchewan has been on life support for the past two years.

In 2012 the government, through the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority had provided a grant of $320,000 used for 16 days of racing, $214,400 for race purses and $105,600 which went to operations.

But the province announced in the spring of 2012 that funding would be gone as of 2013.

That was bad news for the Yorkton Exhibition Association (YEA) which had hosted races in the city for several years.

In spite of the funding loss in 2013 The YEA was proactive in trying to work with the province to find a way to restore support, but nothing came from talks with the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, funding body for racing in the province.

The decision put the industry in jeopardy for racing in 2013, but YEA chose to take on the risk and host races. The Board decided it would support horse racing, and managed to scrounge enough support to hold races last year.

The hope was that the year would allow the YEA and the province to finding a viable funding solution to secure a future for standardbred racing in Saskatchewan.

With the arrival of 2014, the YEA, and standardbred owners, trainers and drivers were looking to plan the year ahead, and were lobbying the government to find dollars to support the sector, since the horse race industry has always relied on the province to provide a portion of funds needed to race.

The government did toss thoroughbred racing based at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon a life jacket.

The government gave Marquis Downs the tools to move forward by issuing them the sole off-track simulcast licence for the province, giving them 365 days a year to generate funds for the live race meet in the summer. Yorkton, and standardbred racing on the other hand were given nothing.

The question becomes why the government has made a winner of thoroughbred racing, and a loser of standardbred racing?

And why they would chose to abandon one sector for what amounts to a couple hundred thousand a year? It would stand to reason such funds could be found somewhere within government.

While most recently under the umbrella of SLGA, but was once under the Department of Agriculture.

Changing where the funding comes from should be possible.

As an example the YEA recognized sport, culture and recreation projects and programs are supported across the province through Sask Lotteries, and suggested that is where the $200,000 for races purses could come from. It would be a natural to access money from the lottery fund, which gets its money through lottery ticket sales, given thoroughbred racing is getting simulcast dollars which is simply another gambling revenue stream as are lottery ticket sales.

Standardbred racing really fits all three areas when you think about it. It is clearly a sport for participants, and a recreation for those taking in Friday evening races cards throughout the race season.

And when you think about how long racing has been held in Saskatchewan it is part of the culture for many people.

Sask Lottery money goes to events ranging from Shakespeare in the Park in Saskatoon, to the Jazz Festival in Regina.

Those are great events for those communities, and for the people attending for recreation. In Yorkton standardbred racing fills the same role. It gives people in the community something fun to enjoy at a low cost over four months of racing.

A $200,000 grant from Sask Lotteries could have saved the industry.

It would also be good investment for the government wherever they could have found the minimal dollars since the $200,000 flows right back into the city and a lot more dollars with it them.

It is estimated the 16-days of racing contributes about $1 million to the local economy. It's owners buying gas to come see their horses race and the meals and hotel rooms they need after races are finished for the night, trainers buying oats and hay from local farmers, or calling a local veterinarian for a horse with a sore leg. It's YEA buying steaks and wieners to serve race nights. It's buying services such as signage and advertising in local media.

It's a 101 things the industry spends money on over a race season.

The province needs to recognize standardbred racing in Yorkton fills an important role on many levels locally.

It's good for the economy. It's a great way for people to spend a Friday evening. It's a connection to our agricultural and historical roots.

Other provincial governments remain committed to providing support to both thoroughbred and standardbred racing. Governments in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba continue to fund both types of racing. They have not picked a winner and a loser like the Saskatchewan Party has.

All those positives of standardbed racing in the city and province will be lost if the government does not step forward in the next few weeks with a stay of execution for the industry.

The YEA can't take on the risk of going it alone again, but are more than willing to have racing here. It's part of what the YEA is about, but the province has to come to the table.

Without their help standardbred racing will die, and if it does, it will have been the province that pulled the trigger.

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