Good news for Fort Erie Race Track

Fort Erie Track prepares for 2013 season

By Tony Ricciuto, Niagara Falls Review

FORT ERIE - They all agreed “it’s a great day for racing” because horses will be returning to the Fort Erie Race Track for another year, but few details were released on how the industry plans to attract more fans in the future.

On Tuesday, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the government had reached tentative transition funding agreements with the Fort Erie Race Track, Georgian Downs and Flamboro Downs - which ensured race dates for the 2013 season.

On Thursday, a press conference was held at the Fort Erie Race Track, but no new details were released about the one-year deal, how much funding has been made available, and what’s in store down the road.

The government says details have not been released because it is continuing to negotiate transition agreements with other tracks across the province.

Training at the Fort Erie Track will begin April 26 and opening day is May 26. They will have 50 days of racing. Last year, they had 76 days of Thoroughbred cards and five days of Quarter Horse racing.

Jim Thibert, chief executive officer of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, said “we are racing in 2013. We have a schedule of 50 days and we currently have a one-year deal in principle. That’s 50 days so far, a one-year deal and prospects for the future.”

Thibert said the Fort Erie Track became the model and poster child for the future of racing.

“We have 116 years of history, a truly community run corporation with some of the most experienced staff and horse people, significant clients from Buffalo and Western New York are the assets we rely on to make Fort Erie successful,”

said Thibert. “We look forward to that team effort rallying in 2013 and beyond.”

He noted the horse racing industry is changing fundamentally. It has been getting tougher every year, and at some tracks more money was to be made at the slots instead of investing in horse racing.

The industry is going through change, he added, and it will not be without pain. However, we now have a new premier who is concerned about rural Ontario and who listens to her MPPs.

Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor called it “a great day” especially for the employees at the track.

He said the slots program that was in place just wasn’t working. The track was not financially successful and that’s why the owner wanted to close it.

Craitor credited Thibert and the rest of his team for their hard work to keep the track open.

Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin said he was excited to hear there would be racing at the track for another year, but “there’s still lots of work to be done” to make sure it remains a part of the community.

The town relies on it heavily for its economy.

Martin said the track has a $151-million impact each year on the Town of Fort Erie and Regional Niagara.

Audrey Albu, who owns two horses and plans to race at Fort Erie this year, said she hopes they will be able to attract more people to the track, but things haven’t been going that well for more than 10 years.

“We love this place, we love the atmosphere, I just wish more people would invest in the horsing industry. They could do more to get more women and children here.”

Albu said it’s great that the track will be open this year, but she is concerned about what’s going to happen next year and the year after.

“We want something that’s going to be consistent,” she said.

Tony Ricciuto is a reporter/columnist at The Niagara Falls Review.

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